Black Women in the Twentieth Century American City Essay

Black Women in the Twentieth Century American City Essay

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The urbanization of the black population of America began since 1900. During the two World Wars, owing to the need and demand for unskilled labor in the cities, blacks migrated in large numbers from the rural South to the city. By the 1950s, only 40% of black population lived on farms and by the 1970s, blacks had become completely urbanized.

The World Wars also resulted in the movement of black women from the farms to the industrial work force. A direct result of the integration of black women into the urban economy was that they became economically independent and were freed from their dependence on black men. By the 1980s, approximately 41% of Black families in the United States were headed by women. This structure of the black family and the importance women assumed in it was in direct opposition to the traditional white nuclear family, where white women played a passive, subordinate role. Therefore, the white racist society of America propounded the theory of the disordered black family, and laid the entire blame for this instability on the shoulders of the black women (who were stereotyped as powerful, assertive, sub-human women, who castrated the men of the house). Black women were labeled as matriarchs and this myth furthered their image as masculinized, domineering creatures. Through it, whites not only sought to devalue black womanhood but also pitted black men against black women.

Writers like Franklin Frazier claimed that the black family, headed by black woman was “unable to withstand the disintegrating forces in the city” and “unable to stem the tide of family disorganization that has followed as a natural consequence of the impact of modern civilization upon the folkways and mores of the simple peasant folk” (....


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...: Greenwood, 1997. 42-47.

---. “Navigating a Blues Landscape: The Women of Brewster Place” in The Fiction of Gloria Naylor: Houses and Spaces of Resistance. Knoxville: University of Tennessee, 2010. 1-20.

Naylor, Gloria. The Women of Brewster Place. New York: Penguin Books, 1982.

Nnaemeka, Obioma. Ed. The Politics of (M)othering-Womanhood, Identity and Resistance in African Literature. London: Routledge, 1997.

Sample, Maxine. “Urban Landscapes in Black Women’s Fiction: Portraits of the Twentieth -Century City.” University of Reunion Island. France. Available at
http://laboratoires.univ-reunion.fr/oracle/documents/urban_landscape.html. Accessed on 25 June 2011.

Showalter, Elaine. Sister’s Choice: Tradition and Change in American Women’s Writing. New York: Clarendon Press, 1991.

Zimmerman, Bonnie. The Safe Sea of Women. Boston: Beacon Press, 1990.

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