The BookBrowse Review

Published May 15, 2019

ISSN: 1930-0018

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Book Jacket

Sisters and Rebels
A Struggle for the Soul of America
by Jacquelyn Dowd Hall
21 May 2019
704 pages
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
ISBN-13: 9780393047998
Genre: Biography/Memoir
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Three sisters from the South wrestle with orthodoxies of race, sexuality, and privilege.

Descendants of a prominent slaveholding family, Elizabeth, Grace, and Katharine Lumpkin grew up in a culture of white supremacy. But while Elizabeth remained a lifelong believer, her younger sisters chose vastly different lives. Seeking their fortunes in the North, Grace and Katharine reinvented themselves as radical thinkers whose literary works and organizing efforts brought the nation's attention to issues of region, race, and labor.

In Sisters and Rebels, National Humanities Award–winning historian Jacquelyn Dowd Hall follows the divergent paths of the Lumpkin sisters, who were "estranged and yet forever entangled" by their mutual obsession with the South. Tracing the wounds and unsung victories of the past through to the contemporary moment, Hall revives a buried tradition of Southern expatriation and progressivism; explores the lost, revolutionary zeal of the early twentieth century; and muses on the fraught ties of sisterhood.

Grounded in decades of research, the family's private papers, and interviews with Katharine and Grace, Sisters and Rebels unfolds an epic narrative of American history through the lives and works of three Southern women.

"These admirably crafted biographies of the Lumpkins, their cohorts, and their causes opens a fascinating window on America's social and intellectual history." - Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Sharply etched biographical portraits focus a compelling history." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Highly recommended for readers interested in women's history and American intellectual history." - Library Journal

"The word befitting this work is 'masterpiece.' Sisters and Rebels is an impassioned, elegant, evocative narrative that turns biography into art and scholarship into the profound understanding of a South searching for its soul." - Paula J. Giddings, author of IDA: A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching

"At a time when millions hunger for hope that a better America is possible, one of our wisest historians uncovers a past we urgently need: of a left feminism organic to the South, forged through rebellion against the dehumanizing treatment of African Americans and buoyed by the Protestant Social Gospel and the struggles of working men and women...Jacquelyn Hall offers unforgettable insights into how we all might manage to get free." - Nancy MacLean, author of Democracy in Chains, Finalist for the National Book Award

"Hall's evocative, gripping and superbly well-researched story of the originality and bravery of these gentle (initially gentle) women contains both triumph and tragedy as it traces their invention of modern lives for themselves. It adds up to a sweeping, against-the-grain panorama of American history in the first half of the twentieth century." - Nancy Cott, author of The Grounding of Modern Feminism

"An absolutely necessary, totally engaging history...In graceful, illuminating prose, Hall speaks from her own long relationship with the sisters as well as her rigorous and comprehensive scholarship, adding yet another dimension to this fine history which reads like a novel." - Lee Smith, NYT bestselling author of The Last Girls: A Novel

"A tour de force from a remarkable historian. Jacquelyn Hall's long-awaited chronicle of the Lumpkin sisters offers unparalleled insight into the complexities of gender and race in the lives of white southerners. In compelling and eloquent prose, Hall recounts not just the choices and constraints that shaped these women's extraordinary lives. She also provides a fascinating window into her own adventures pursuing and telling their stories." - Drew Gilpin Faust, author of This Republic of Suffering, Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award); first woman president of Harvard University

"I loved this beautifully researched and expertly executed study of three women who were just as distinct, complicated, and problematic as the region they called home. Jacquelyn Dowd Hall again proves herself to be one of our nation's most relevant scholars." - Wiley Cash, NYT bestselling author of A Land More Kind Than Home

Jacquelyn Dowd Hall grew up in a small town in Oklahoma,where the South meets the West. In college in Memphis and then graduate school in New York, she came of age with the civil rights and women's movements ofthe1960s and 1970s. She has been - at some level - thinking about the women or at least the kinds of women who populate Sisters and Rebels for most of her writing and teaching career.

She stumbled on Katharine Du Pre Lumpkin's autobiography while writing her first book. As founding director of the University of North Carolina's Southern Oral History Program, she learned that Katharine was only one of three fascinating sisters, each of whom grappled with a family legacy of slaveholding in which devotion to white supremacy and veneration of the Confederacy went hand in hand. The eldest, a true believer, had died ten years before. But Katharine and Grace, who, in her day, had been a celebrated radical novelist, were very much alive. Hall sought them out for interviews which,decades later, became the seeds of her new book.

Hall is currently Julia Cherry Spruill Professor Emerita at UNC-Chapel Hill. She was awarded a National Humanities Medal for her efforts to deepen the nation's engagement with the humanities by "recording history through the lives of ordinary people, and, in so doing,for making history." She is the author or coauthor of prizewinning books and articles, including Revolt Against Chivalry: Jessie Daniel Ames and the Women's Campaign Against Lynching (1979); Like a Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World (1987); and "The Long Civil Rights Movement and the Political Uses of the Past," Journal of American History (2005). She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and has held numerous fellowships. Her most recent publication is "The Good Fight," in Mothers and Strangers: Essays on Motherhood from the New South, ed. Samia Serageldin and Lee Smith (forthcoming, UNC Press, April 2019).

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