‘Domestics’ labor in Jim Crow hits mark

While avoiding overheated rhetoric inflammatory baiting from either perspective, “The Maid Narratives: Black Domestics and White Families in the Jim Crow South” presents clear, truthful interviews from both the black and the white perspective.

This nonfiction work achieves its objective in the narratives only because neither the blacks nor the whites involved in the interviews were bound by the need to retain employment or maintain a social decorum that prevailed only through subjugation of blacks through laws proclaiming separate but equal status of African Americans that were upheld until the mid-1960s.

The racial tension during the period played out differently in each of the lives of the participants. The stories are compiled and given the framing of social context by three academic authors with very dissimilar social backgrounds.

The authors selected a narrative gerontological approach. The initial objective was a compilation of oral histories.

The maids interviewed were part of the second Great Migration to Iowa from Louisiana and Mississippi. The two primary points of chronological reference were the Jim Crow South of the 1930s to 1960s and the modern-day Midwest.

This book has a similar theme to “The Help.” Unlike “The Help,” these stories are based on direct interviews and are presented in a research-based format. It presents an extensive bibliography and index for further research on a topic that is only beginning to obtain coverage in literature.

“Maid Narratives” asks several primary questions to the various interviewees.

What is evident is that few of the maids were ever addressed by anything other than their first names or nicknames; most were required to enter the homes of their employers through a back door; many were subjected to institutionalized discrimination that their employers were completely unaware existed.

While this is not a light read, it is an important read for anyone interested in understanding the realities that innately caused racial tension in the South in the second and third generations following the Civil War.