Fannie Barrier Williams: Crossing the Borders of Region and Race

Fannie Barrier Williams: Crossing the Borders of Region and Race

University of Illinois Press
288 pages
6.125 x 9.25 in.
5 black & white photographs
Cloth ISBN: 978-0-252-03811-2
Paper ISBN: 978-0-252-07959-7

Wanda A. Hendricks, Associate Professor of History
University of South Carolina

The biography of a key activist of the Progressive Era

Born shortly before the Civil War, activist and reformer Fannie Barrier Williams (1855-1944) became one of the most prominent educated African American women of her generation. In this first biography of Williams, Wanda A. Hendricks focuses on the critical role of geography and social position in Williams’s life, illustrating how the reform activism of Williams and other black women was bound up with place and space.

Growing up in Brockport, New York, a mostly white society that encouraged social equality and embraced her and her family, Williams was insulated from the political turmoil surrounding the debates about slavery and black rights. Hendricks shows how Williams became “raced” for the first time in early adulthood, when she became a teacher in Missouri and Washington, D.C., and faced the injustices of racism and the stark contrast between the lives of freed slaves and her own privileged upbringing. She carried this new awareness with her to Chicago, where she joined forces with women’s clubs, the Unitarian church, and various other interracial social justice organizations to become a prominent spokesperson for Progressive economic, racial, and gender reforms.

By highlighting how Williams experienced a set of freedoms in the North that were not imaginable in the South, this clearly-written, widely accessible biography expands how we understand intellectual possibilities, economic success, and social mobility in post-Reconstruction America.

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