Cherisse Jones-Branch - Better Living by Their Own Bootstraps

As part of the Pryor Center Presents lecture series, Dr. Cherisse Jones-Branch will discuss her book Better Living by Their Own Bootstraps: Black Women's Activism in Rural Arkansas, 1914-1965 on Thursday, March 28, at the David and Barbara Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History in the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences.

The first major study to consider Black women’s activism in rural Arkansas, this work foregrounds activists’ quest to improve Black communities through language and foodways as well as politics and community organizing. In reexamining these efforts, 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.

Jones-Branch is dean of the Graduate School and professor of history at Arkansas State University. An award-winning scholar of Rural, Women’s, and African American history, Jones-Branch is the author of Crossing the Line: Women and Interracial Activism in South Carolina during and after World War II, Better Living by Their Own Bootstraps: Black Women’s Activism in Rural Arkansas, 1914-1965, and the coeditor of Arkansas Women: Their Lives and Times.

Her next book project, titled “. . . To Make the Farm Bureau Stronger and Better for All the People:” African Americans and the American Farm Bureau Federation: 1920-1966, will be published by the University of Arkansas Press’ “Rural Black Studies” series of which she is coeditor.

Jones-Branch is also the cofounder of the Arkansas Delta Women’s Leadership Academy, which aims to increase the number and visibility of women leaders in the Delta region by providing them with leadership training and networking opportunities. Jones-Branch is a U.S. Army Persian Gulf War Veteran.

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