Friday, July 12, 2019

Jacquelyn Dowd Hall's "Sisters and Rebels"

Jacquelyn Dowd Hall is the founding director of the Southern Oral History Program and the Julia Cherry Spruill Professor of History Emerita at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is the author of Sisters and Rebels: A Struggle for the Soul of America, Revolt Against Chivalry: Jessie Daniel Ames and the Women’s Campaign Against Lynching, and coauthor of the prize-winning Like a Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World.

Hall applied the “Page 99 Test” to Sisters and Rebels and reported the following:
From page 99:
As head of her college YWCA, Katharine helped to redirect students toward doing “our bit” for the soldiers “over there” in pace with the nation’s unprecedented mobilization of resources, achieved in part through the blunt exercise of federal power and in part through an intense propaganda campaign.... Ninety-nine percent of the student body attended self-organized “world democracy classes,” which aimed to “train women for citizenship during and after the war.” Soon they were characteriz­ing themselves ... as “citizens of this great nation of ours.... A new world-order was being established,” explained the student yearbook, “and as we awakened to this fact we began to prepare ourselves for service.”
I definitely wouldn’t choose this page to introduce browsers to my book. It serves more as a bridge to than as an expression of the main points of the chapter in which it appears. Still, read in context, it does forward my story. That context is set on the previous page: “‘If the war didn’t happen to kill you,’ a char­acter in one of George Orwell’s novels observed, ‘it was bound to set you thinking.’ For the first time, many Southerners found themselves with money in their pockets, jobs in industry, or plans to set sail for distant shores.... Coming to adulthood during these world-changing years, Katharine Du Pre Lumpkin and her sister Grace Lumpkin joined a postwar generation of women who found new routes to self-making in the opportunities opened by the war.”

Born into a former slaveholding family at the end of the 19th century, the Lumpkin sisters had been drilled in the tenets of white supremacy, reverence for the Confederacy, and acceptance of male authority and women’s “secondary and supplementary” role. On page 99 Katharine is a student at a small, all-white college for women in North Georgia. She has already encountered the eye-opening message of the social gospel and thrown in her lot with the YWCA, the most influential progressive force on college campuses at the time. In the pages that follow, the war creates unprecedented opportunities for black women to participate in the organization, and Katharine finds herself called to work on a basis of equality with her black peers for the first time. Her assumptions about racial superiority and inferiority begin to fall away. But she is still vulnerable to the pull of a racist past. Similarly, while she and other student activists had opposed U.S. entry into the war, they, like many others, were swept away by Woodrow Wilson's promise that this war would end wars and make the world safe for democracy. Page 99 shows young women succumbing to nationalist propaganda, but it points forward to a fount of future peace and antiracist activism, as many come to see the war as a catastrophic con­flict driven by imperialist rivalries and war profiteering. It also anticipates the ways in which their involvement in war work, both at home and abroad, leads them to see themselves as full-fledged citizens in a way they never had before.
Visit Jacquelyn Dowd Hall's website.

--Marshal Zeringue