The first major study to consider Black women’s activism in rural Arkansas, Better Living by Their Own Bootstraps foregrounds activists’ quest to improve Black communities through language and foodways as well as politics and community organizing. In reexamining these efforts, Cherisse Jones-Branch lifts many important figures out of obscurity, positioning them squarely within Arkansas’s agrarian history.
The Black women activists highlighted here include home demonstration agents employed by the Arkansas Agricultural Cooperative Extension Service and Jeanes Supervising Industrial Teachers, all of whom possessed an acute understanding of the difficulties that African Americans faced in rural spaces. Examining these activists through a historical lens, Jones-Branch reveals how educated, middle-class Black women worked with their less-educated rural sisters to create all-female spaces where they confronted economic, educational, public health, political, and theological concerns free from white regulation and interference.
Centered on the period between 1914 and 1965, Better Living by Their Own Bootstraps brings long-overdue attention to an important chapter in Arkansas history, spotlighting a group of Black women activists who uplifted their communities while subverting the formidable structures of white supremacy.