New Book: Black Women and Politics in NYC

Julie A. Gallagher’s Black Women and Politics in New York City (2012, Univ. of Illinois Press) is a remarkable contribution to twentieth-century political history that documents six decades of politically active black women in New York City.  These are Black women as liberal reformers, from suffrage to civil rights, who waged struggles for justice, rights, and equality not through grassroots activism but through formal politics.

In tracing the paths of black women activists from women’s clubs and civic organizations to national politics&#8211including appointments to presidential commissions, congressional offices, and even a presidential candidacy&#8211Gallagher also articulates the vision of politics the women developed and its influence on the Democratic party and its policies. Deftly examining how race, gender, and the structure of the state itself shape outcomes, she exposes the layers of power and discrimination at work in all sectors of U.S. society.

Taking a long historical view across the twentieth century, Black Women and Politics in New York City is arranged chronologically, beginning with the fight for suffrage and rights in the first two decades of the century and moving through strides made and political opportunities seized during the Great Depression, the World War II era, resistance in the 1950s, and feminism and civil rights in the 1960s and 1970s. Gallagher examines the career of political trailblazer Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress and the first to run for president on a national party ticket, with extensive attention to the efforts of generations of politically active black women who came before her.

Gallagher’s study of African American women in New York City politics adds to the growing body of scholarship on the civil rights struggle and revises twentieth-century women’s history, particularly feminist activism, to include African American women who hitherto have been excluded from the narrative. Sensitively and insightfully offering revision and expansion of the accepted interpretations of black feminism to include liberal reformers, Gallagher draws on an impressive array of sources to highlight the struggles black women waged through formal politics for themselves, their communities, and broader ideals of equality.

Julie A. Gallagher is an assistant professor of history at Pennsylvania State University, Brandywine.

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