304 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 7 halftones, appends., notes, bibl., index
John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture
Domestic Workers in the South,1865-1960
2012 Bennett H. Wall Award, Southern Historical Association
A 2011 Choice Outstanding Academic Title
As African American women left the plantation economy behind, many entered domestic service in southern cities and towns. Cooking was one of the primary jobs they performed, feeding generations of white families and, in the process, profoundly shaping southern foodways and culture. Rebecca Sharpless argues that, in the face of discrimination, long workdays, and low wages, African American cooks worked to assert measures of control over their own lives. As employment opportunities expanded in the twentieth century, most African American women chose to leave cooking for more lucrative and less oppressive manufacturing, clerical, or professional positions. Through letters, autobiography, and oral history, Sharpless evokes African American women's voices from slavery to the open economy, examining their lives at work and at home.
"Skillfully researched, lucidly written, and thoughtful. . . . This book appears at a crucial moment, presenting a beautifully crafted historical narrative that contextualizes Kathryn Stockett's The Help. . . . Highly recommended."
“Thanks to Professor Sharpless for allowing these cooks to make real the travails and triumphs they endured. May her volume continue to break down the stereotypes that plague us to this day.”
“A fresh and engaging read.”
--Journal of Southern History
“[An] excellent new history of African American cooks in the U.S. South . . . . Sharpless’s book offers a valuable model for labor historians, as it portrays work and life as inextricably linked but not mutually definitive.”
--American Historical Review
"A fascinating examination of black women's domestic employment as they transitioned from being slaves to being free laborers."
--The North Carolina Historical Review
“Well written, painstakingly researched, and carefully situated in the scholarly literature about foodways . . . . A rich and much needed addition.”
--Florida Historical Quarterly
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