Use What You Got to Get What You Want: Searching High and Low for Big Momma and Dem’
Doria Johnson, Phd Candidate, Department of History, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Using Black Feminist and Womanist theorists, stories and pictures to fuel my dissertation, I seek to understand women who migrated during the early 20th century, specifically to suburbs. One in five of the Great Migrants moved immediately to suburban areas. Specifically, I argue that Black women’s labor – fueled by the out-migration from southern counties provoked by lynchings – funded the Great Migration. Scholars have demonstrated that Black women’s domestic work was more dependable than what was usually available for Black men, making them the critical participants in the economic and laboring lives of new and expanded Black communities. My research amplifies women who have memories of lynching motivating their acculturation into their new areas, but getting to their lives in the archives requires understanding theories created by those who reside in our communities. Some rival interpretations of “The Help” and other white remembrances of their beloved Mammies and caretakers, hopefully challenge the elitist bent of many of our repositories. Thus, oral histories across class are important to understanding their lived experiences. What does it mean to search high and low in the archives? Excavating both high (respectable club and church) and low (speculative gambling operations and party houses) stories, records, and memories and combining them without privileging presents an exciting way to understand how Black women used day and night activities to make a livable wage.
My job is to use my unique voice and experiences to craft a story that is both acceptable to the academy (and can be deposited for the next generations of scholars), but also remains true to the ‘home girls” and ‘Big Momma’s’ who will never dart through the doors of the academy. It is to them that I am ultimately accountable and combining these fields of study taught me how to be respectful and rigorously attentive to both.
Date: Friday, October 6
Location: GSE&IS Building, Room 111
Reception to follow
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