When we think of leaders in the Civil Rights Movement, we often think of people like Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcolm X — powerful men and women who stood up and called others to action.
We don’t often pay enough attention to the smaller stories of men and women who worked everyday, in their own ways, to make the world a better place.
In “The Maid Narratives” by Dr. Katherine van Wormer, Dr. David W. Jackson III and Dr. Charletta Sudduth, the authors do just this by exploring the lives of black domestics and white families in the Jim Crow south.
The authors encourage readers to think of the African American narrators when reading the lines of Langston Hughes: “Children, I come back today / to tell you a story of the long dark way / That I had to climb, that I had to know / In order that the race might live and grow.”
While “The Maid Narratives” is an important, beautifully-written text, some may find the beginning a bit dense, with a lengthy academic literature review and methods section. If you find this to be the case, consider beginning with chapter 5, which provides a wonderful overview to common themes and an introduction to the interviews. From here readers can then move to the interviews themselves, which begin back in chapter 4.
This is not to say you should skip the opening sections. (I found the chapter “History and Context” to be incredibly insightful.) Every chapter of this book is important; however, when approaching this text, whether for academic purposes or personal gain, readers should feel free to move around.
Hearing the stories from the African American and white narrators is thought-provoking and inspiring, and the authors do a wonderful job of placing these individual stories against the larger backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement, showing that all stories — no matter how small — are important.