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Book Review: When And Where I Enter
An author who gives forgotten women their due
Rachel L. Swarns

Countless black men have been discriminated against, their achievements ignored and forgotten. However, many black women have suffered the same plight to an even larger extent.

Not only have their achievements been ignored, black women have also been doubly discriminated against, both because of their race and their sex. Ironically, they have often faced as many resentments from white feminists and black men as from white men.

When and Where I Enter, by Paula Giddings, gives these forgotten women their due by describing their due by describing their struggles as well as their integral role in both the civil rights and feminist movements. Black activist Ida B. Wells and millionaire Madame C.J. Walker are two of the many women described in this book.

Ida B. Wells, a journalist, led a successful campaign again lynching during the late 1800s. She was convinced that lynching was the result of white resentment against the increasing number of blacks, not the result of their alleged criminal behavior, and was horrified by the huge number of lynchings.

Because of her strong feelings, she wrote searing editorials and articles in the Black Memphis newspaper, The Free Press, condemning the lynching. Because she was a woman, Wells was more successful in her campaign than any man could have been. Whites simply would have killed any black man who dared to start such a campaign. As it was, Southern whites were so incensed by her articles that she was told she would be killed if she ever returned to Memphis.

image by Michelle Trester

Undeterred, Wells took her campaign to England, and to the dismay of many American politicians who had refused to take a public stand against lynching, she received enormous support. Consequently, these politicians were forced to denounce lynching, and as result of her work, the number of lynchings, which reached an all-time high of 255 in 1982, declined in 1893 and continued to do so after that.

That book also tells about Madame C.J. Walker, who was born in Louisiana in 1867. Orphaned at age five, married at 14, a mother by 20, and a widow soon after, she was forced to work as a washerwoman to support herself and her daughter. Madame Walker, however, was not content with her occupation. In a dream, she saw a vision of an old man who told her the ingredients of a product that would help her hair, which was falling out. Walked developed this formula, and the results were extraordinary.

"My hair was coming in faster than it fell out," she said. "I made up my mind that I would begin to sell it." She started by offering her formula door-to-door, and by the early 1900s, she had established a chain of beauty parlors throughout the country, the Caribbean, and South America. As a result of the effectiveness of her product, her uncanny business sense, and her unlimited energy, Madame C.J. Walker because the first black female millionaire in the United States.

When and Where I Enter taught me a great deal about the many accomplishments of black women and their impact on America in a very readable and enjoyable style. It is perfect reading for Black History Month.

Rachel wrote this story when she was 18. She served as managing editor of Youth Communication’s YCteen magazine, where she published more than a dozen stories. After high school, she attended Howard University where she wrote forThe Hilltop. She worked for the St. Petersburg Times and the Miami Herald after college.

Rachel has been a reporter for The New York Times since 1995. She is the author of American Tapestry: The Story of the Black, White, and Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama (HarperCollins Publishers).

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