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In Praise of Black Women, Volume 2: Heroines of the Slavery Era.

by Simone Schwarz-Bart with Andre Schwarz-Bart The University of Wisconsin Press/Modus Vivendi Publications, December 2002, $49.95, ISBN 0-299-17260-0

"Anyone who has ever lived among women of African descent knows that it is inconceivable to even imagine invisible or voiceless black women. Wherever one looks in the black world, one finds in black women a living, working, struggling, nurturing presence--the primary source of life itself."

The quote from Howard Dodson, director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, in his foreword is at the heart and soul of In Praise of Black Women, Volume 2: Heroines of the Slavery Era. The second book of this celebratory series (the first volume covers Ancient African Queens), authors Simone Schwarz-Bart and Andre Schwarz-Bart take us through a painful period of black history.

Through a melange of folklore, historical accounts, poetry, song, legends and images of paintings, engravings and drawings, the authors reanimate the slavery era and the lives of incredible women who so brilliantly survived. This book covers the 15th century through the 19th century and spans the globe from North to South America and the Caribbean.

Along with profiles of familiar figures, such as orator and activist Sojourner Truth, poet Phillis Wheatley and Underground Railroad heroine Harriet Tubman, we are also introduced to more than a dozen women whose lives are omitted from most history texts. There is Aqualtune, a Congolese princess who was said to have been in command of an army 10,000 strong during the battle of Mbilla in 1665. Once enslaved in Brazil, she made her mark by destroying her masters and reestablishing her title, this time as princess of the Kingdom of Palmares, a community of runaway slaves. Then there is Nanny, a Jamaican legend who was an African obeah (a practitioner of magic), and was never a slave. Fresh off the boat, she escaped to the Blue Mountains where the Maroons, a proud community of fierce and free blacks, reigned. In the mountains, she established Nanny Town, a haven for runaway mothers and children. We also learn of Ellen Craft, a fair-skinned slave adored by her masters, who went on to marry a dark-skinned slave and pull off a daring escape to freedom. Disguised as an invalid white man accompanied by his manservant, Ellen and her husband, William Craft, made their way from Georgia to Philadelphia.

Schwarz-Bart's talent as a novelist help breathe life into every page. The rich portraits, along with informative sidebars and lavish illustrations, make this an inspirational and beautifully crafted work. If the first two volumes are any indication, we should expect even more from the third volume from Schwarz-Bart's series, which is due this spring.

--Suzanne Rust is a freelance writer living in New York City.
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Author:Rust, Suzanne
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2003
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