Domination and Resistance: The Politics of Wage Household Labor by Tera Hunter

Domination and Resistance: The Politics of Wage Household Labor by Tera Hunter

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During the summer of 1881, African-American domestics organized a strike for higher wages and to maintain autonomy in the work place. In the article, Domination and Resistance: The Politics of Wage Household Labor in New South Atlanta, Tera Hunter examines the plight of newly emancipated black women domestic workers who actively resisted the terms of their labor in Atlanta. Her focus is on how these women shape the meaning of freedom through workplace resistance, the exercise of political rights and institution building during the latter part of the nineteenth century. The purpose of this essay is to examine the covert ways African-American women domestic workers constructed their world of work, negotiation, resistance and community.
Hunter begins her analysis by integrating the experiences of African-American women workers into the broader examination of political and economic conditions in the New South. According to Hunter, the period between 1877 and 1915 is critical to understanding the social transformations in most southern cities and complicating this transformation are the issues of race, class, and gender. The examination of the lives of black domestic workers reveals the complexity of their struggles to keep their autonomy with white employers and city officials. For example, African-American women built institutions and frequently quit their jobs in response to the attempts by southern whites to control their labor and mobility. Hunter carefully situates these individual tactics of resistance in the New South capitalist development and attempts by whites to curtail the political and social freedoms of emancipated slaves.
African-American women migrating to Atlanta after the Emancipation found themselve...

... middle of paper ...

...African-American women domestic workers in Atlanta during the periods between Reconstruction and World War 1 demonstrate they were active participates in the economic, social and political life of the New South. In addition, the private and public spheres accorded to white woman was non-existent for African-American women. Hunter concludes that the strategies employed by the washerwoman’s strike are inconclusive at best and evidence is lacking whether their demands for wage increases ever materialized. She does note however, that washerwoman did maintain the appearance of independence not enjoyed by most workers.

Works Cited

Tera W. Hunter, “Domination and Resistance: The Politics of Wage Household Labor in New South Atlanta,” in Darlene Clark Hine, ed., We Specialize in the Wholly Impossible: A Reader in Black Women’s History (Carlson Publishing, Inc., 1995)

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