Mary White, Harlem, Mary White Abington discussed on Press Play with Madeleine Brand
Part of the twentieth. Century in African American neighborhoods in Philadelphia York who led that social sexual revolution. While it was young black women, the book wayward lives, beautiful experiments looks at how these women challenged and transformed ideas about love marriage and family, even before the jazz age before the Harlem renaissance the author of the book is a D Hartman her specialty is in resurrecting forgotten and race stories. She's a professor at Columbia University and a Guggenheim fellow anti joins me. Now. Welcome. Thank you. And happy to be here. It's great to have you. So you wrote this in an unusual way. Right. Yes. And this is not like a straight history book or sociological examination. I mean, you employ a lot of interesting narrative techniques a lot of kind of fictionalized versions of of these women's stores. Can you tell us about how you went about writing this book? Basically I wanted to write a history book, but one that had the intimacy and the narrative power of a novel and while I did huge amounts of archival research than novelists. Stick texture has everything to do with the perspective from which I narrated, and it's very close to these women's lives. Will you right in the introduction that you see these young black women as social visionaries innovators, right? As as as people who are in fact, creating a revolution. Yes, I do and for many people that's like a wild assertion. You know, how can that be the case? I think that they were astute social analysts because at the time people migrated to the north often to find a more restricted set of possibilities than existed in the south. So that was the first surprise and for young black women, the overwhelming majority like ninety percent were conscripted to domestic work to housework, which they consider to be a continuation of slavery reformers were saying, well, if you become a more efficient worker, then you can get better wages, so the idea was that their circumstances. We're going to be improved if they became better and more efficient servants. And basically they said no to that. They said no to a social script which was trying to make. Them live in accordance with Victorian and middle-class norms that were absolutely unsustainable in the black community black families needed the work, the wages and the labor of all adults in the household households dependent upon renting rooms to strangers. So what the black household was was radically different than a vision of a White House whole with mommy, daddy, and children, and that different form that queer form that anomalous form that different form of the household actually, enable people to survive, so largely this is taking place in the north, and you focus on Philadelphia and New York City, and it's a tractive the attention of sociologists famous sociologists like WB voice came to check out what was happening and and try to figure out what was driving all this behavior. And then also a friend of his white woman. Named Mary white moving ten she goes and lives in I guess, the slums, and you know, she's initially seen because she was co founder of the ACP is a friend of black people African Americans. And yet, you write that she really had a very condescending attitude towards young black women, and I would, you know, say that she had a a very complex attitude. Absolutely. I mean, Mary white Ave was definitely an anti-racist a co-founder as you say, the NAACP friend of Dubose, but even for you know, Mary white adding ten the way in which black people in particularly young black women conduct their intimate lives. She judges to be a certain kind of failure rate. She writes in their hours of leisure the surplus women are known to play havoc with their neighbors. Sons even with their neighbors, husbands, I know the. The Malindi the hour. I know so it's such an, and I think that what's interesting about Mary white Abington is even as she is a totally non traditional woman herself. Right. I mean, one she's not married in all likelihood, she was involved in an extramarital affair herself. She's living in an all black building. So in so many ways she has defied a set of gender prescriptions yet, she seems to have a very different measure or yardstick when it comes to the young black women, she's surrounded by and again, Mary white Otton. She is definitely like a friend of the race. So it's not antipathy. That's prompting her to describe her neighbors in this way. Right. It's just a genuine sense that they're failing to meet a certain text of womanhood. I want to talk about EDNA Thomas. She was an actress and a singer, and he's just a little bit of her music from the time song called go down. Moses. Sal, let my people go there. She was the daughter of a black woman and a white man who raped her mother, and she was very light skinned. And I guess that was a problem for her growing up. Right. But but then it served her. Well, when she wanted to become an entertainer. You know, again, it's also complex because part of the black elite has always been really fair. I think in her case she was fair for the wrong reasons being fair enabled her to travel in social certain social circles it also worked against her for certain roles because she wasn't considered black enough. So she never passed as white. No. She didn't pass as white. She didn't pass as white. So she marries a black man, and I guess it's not necessarily happy marriage. And then she she falls in love with a British woman an aristocrat. Yes. I mean, it's it's a kind of you know, lovely wild story. I mean, I she marries a very intelligent, man. Who's in a circle of artists who loves Chinese poets and often quotes and conversation, but it is a complex in an unhappy marriage. I mean, there were rumors float that it was a marriage of convenience that are husband was gay. But again, this is these were the rumors she actually said that they had a very passionate marriage even as he was emotionally distant on. She meets a la- veto Wyndham when the three of them are at a party at Olea walkers. So this romance unfolds, which is like a wild pursuit by Olivia Wyndham with Ed never coiling her constantly for six months and Elise returning to. England, and she comes by to say goodbye and presumably I would seem to like plead her case the loss time, and at that moment, something changes as an EDNA finally embraces her and they live together not only nut and Livia as a couple, but the the three of them share a household. I mean, Lloyd is a friend of the couple. So they're really, you know, living this spooky Mian lifestyle. What I found was interesting is that the way the newspapers of the time would often talk about the three some as they would appear. So everyone probably knew this big open secret. But no one felt the need to kind of to out them in the press that there was I think that that was what was really interesting about the age that there was a lot of freedom that was a part of not disclosing ones. Intimacies even as they were known and accept it. You mentioned she they met at Lilia walkers who tells about her because she would have these wild parties. I mean, she was you know, the daughter of Madame CJ Walker who popularized straightening come who invented her own straightened process, and who was the first black woman millionaire and so a legally award. Have these amazing Suarez where you know? Rich white people from downtown come uptown European royalty was there and EDNA was part of the beautiful circle of friends, you know, that occupied Leila Leila's world. And so they met at one of these, you know, grand parties at ali-aliens house and she had the most beautiful house in Harlem, and it was a lovely double Brownstone. So there's so much. You know, I guess romance about the age, and it was in that the context of all of this beauty all of this talent that these two unlikely, you know, these two unlikely figures encounter one another, and then, you know, fall in love and have a a relationship that lasts for decades. That's astonishing and incredible. Let's talk about another performer. Let's just clip of song called groundhog blues..