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CompleteMartialArts.com - Colored Amazons: Crime, Violence, and Black Women in the City of Brotherly Love, 1880-1910


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Manufacturer: Duke University Press
Average Customer Rating: Average rating of 4.0/5Average rating of 4.0/5Average rating of 4.0/5Average rating of 4.0/5Average rating of 4.0/5

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Binding: Paperback
Dewey Decimal Number: 364.37408996073074811
EAN: 9780822337997
ISBN: 0822337991
Label: Duke University Press
Manufacturer: Duke University Press
Number Of Items: 1
Number Of Pages: 260
Publication Date: 2006-06
Publisher: Duke University Press
Studio: Duke University Press

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Editorial Reviews:

Colored Amazons is a groundbreaking historical analysis of the crimes, prosecution, and incarceration of black women in Philadelphia at the turn of the twentieth century. Kali N. Gross reconstructs black women’s crimes and their representations in popular press accounts and within the discourses of urban and penal reform. Most importantly, she considers what these crimes signified about the experiences, ambitions, and frustrations of the marginalized women who committed them. Gross argues that the perpetrators and the state jointly constructed black female crime. For some women, crime functioned as a means to attain personal and social autonomy. For the state, black female crime and its representations effectively galvanized and justified a host of urban reform initiatives that reaffirmed white, middle-class authority.

Gross draws on prison records, trial transcripts, news accounts, and rare mug shot photographs. Providing an overview of Philadelphia’s black women criminals, she describes the women’s work, housing, and leisure activities and their social position in relation to the city’s native-born whites, European immigrants, and elite and middle-class African Americans. She relates how news accounts exaggerated black female crime, trading in sensationalistic portraits of threatening “colored Amazons,” and she considers criminologists’ interpretations of the women’s criminal acts, interpretations largely based on notions of hereditary criminality. Ultimately, Gross contends that the history of black female criminals is in many ways a history of the rift between the political rhetoric of democracy and the legal and social realities of those marginalized by its shortcomings.


Spotlight customer reviews:

Customer Rating: Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5
Summary: Impressive: "the ever-changing same"
Comment: I once heard that criminal justice is the top growing major among American college students. I've also been told that it's not a very rigorous major and that graduate schools, and especially law schools, look down upon it. This book dealt with both criminal justice and history; however, it's a rigorous text more related to the latter subject. Based on the title, some may presume that this will be a repetitive account of crimes committed by some Black women of the time; it is not. Dr. Gross describes just a few cases to point to larger dynamics facing the subject population. In Catherine Fisher Collins' book "The Imprisonment of African American Women," she states that statistics on female prisoners rarely break down those numbers by race. Dr. Gross never states that she had problems finding information specifically about these African-American defendants and inmates.

Conservatives often complain that African Americans "always play the race card." Dr. Gross' book deftly spells out why that may be logical. She details thoroughly how Philadelphia could be a racist place even though it was in the North. She points to how Black women were only allowed to be domestics, and usually low-ordered ones at that. She points to how crusades to help poor, Southern, Black, female migrants were often patronizing and had mixed motives. She paints a picture so effectively of the oppression that Black women faced in that time and place that the fact that some in that group committed crimes becomes unsurprising, if not reasonable. Still, she never once says this group should not be responsible for their individual choices.

While Dr. Gross does describe how white women and Black men faced advantages that Black women didn't, it's the racial inequality that dominates. I am quite sure that a historian could investigate African-American men of that time and would conclude that they did not have a crystal stair either. Some criminologists state that women face chivalry from judges and police officers who downplay their bad actions, but this is treatment that Dr. Gross and many others have said only gets delivered to middle-class, white women. In addition to detailing the double oppression faced by Black women, Dr. Gross still admits that the poor, immigrants, and gay men and lesbians also faced injustice simultaneously.

At one point, Dr. Gross quotes a term "the ever-changing same." As informative as this book is, it may be irritating to many readers. African Americans are still stereotyped as criminal. Disproportionate numbers of female prisoners are still African American. The powers-that-be still fear and attempt to control Black female sexuality. I liked this book, but others may not want to learn that some barriers are age-old.

I thought the last two body chapters were the weakest. I'm not sure if Dr. Gross wanted to bury them by placing them near the end. I almost wondered if they could have been put in the beginning so that the book would gradually improve. Many chapter titles use alliteration. Many people accuse Blacks of constantly rhyming; be it rappers, the late Johnny Cochran, etc. I wonder if Dr. Gross is trying to be different by using the opposite poetic technique or go with the flow by doing something a bit stereotypical.

I'm still scratching my head as to why this was limited to 1880 to 1910. She discusses crimes before that period. 1910 was post-Civil War but pre-19th Amendment. The modern Civil Rights Movement wouldn't arise until approximately 50 years later. Some potential readers may say, "Oh, I don't care about those decades" even though they would be thrilled by the discussion. Not sure why that decision was made.

Customer Rating: Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5
Summary: Interesting book...
Comment: Different history for sure. Packs a lot into a readable, interesting narrative; provocative arguments too. Overall, I really enjoyed it and have to admire the research put into it. Great for anyone interested in crime, history, women, and race.


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