The University of Arkansas Press is delighted to announce the forthcoming publication of Better Living by Their Own Bootstraps: Black Women’s Activism in Rural Arkansas, 1914—1965, by Cherisse Jones-Branch.
The book is the first major study to consider Black women’s activism in rural Arkansas. It lifts them from obscurity and squarely positions them in the narrative of regional agrarian history through an examination of their quest to improve Black communities.
Black women in this region and period have most often been studied as enslaved laborers or migrants to northern and western locales, but this collection of topics studies their various work—in language and foodways as well as political tactics and community organizing—to highlight their contributions to the larger movement. Here, Black women activists included home demonstration agents employed by the Arkansas Agricultural Cooperative Extension Service, Jeanes Supervising Industrial Teachers, and members of the Arkansas Association of Colored Women—all of whom possessed an acute understanding of the difficulties African Americans endured in rural spaces. This study examines them through a complex and nuanced analytical lens that reveals for the first time how middle-class, educated Black women worked with, and not for, their less educated rural sisters by creating all-female spaces to engage with health, education, and issues free from southern white regulation and interference.
Covering the period between 1914 and 1965, Better Living by Their Own Bootstraps encourages a new consideration of Arkansas rural history in ways that foreground Black women’s astute navigation of racial and gender politics as a means to uplift African Americans, develop opportunities for social mobility in impoverished communities, and subvert the formidable structures of growing white supremacy during the Jim Crow years.
Publication of Better Living by Their Own Bootstraps is scheduled for June 2021.
Cherisse Jones-Branch is the James and Wanda Lee Vaughn Endowed Professor of History at Arkansas State University, where she is dean of the graduate school. She is the author of Crossing the Line: Women and Interracial Activism in South Carolina during and after World War II and the coeditor of Arkansas Women: Their Lives and Times.