DR. DANIELLE PHILLIPS-CUNNINGHAM
My interest in women’s migrations and the racial labor histories of domestic workers is rooted in my own personal history. I had the privilege of growing up between two predominately black cities— Atlanta, Georgia and Detroit, Michigan. Both cities have rich histories of African American leadership and activism, especially regarding labor issues. These histories were living stories for me because of my inquisitive and politically engaged parents. My mother and father, graduates of Spelman and Morehouse Colleges respectively, exposed me to literature, family discussions, and political debates about the impact of racial inequalities on Black people’s lives.
They also shared with me oral histories about women’s migrations in my families. My father was always eager to share stories about his grandmother Gertrude, a spiritualist, who migrated from South Georgia to Detroit, Michigan where her descendants became a part of the working-class backbone of the Motor City. My mother was always proud to tell me about her grandmother and great-aunts, the “Alford sisters,” who migrated from LaGrange, Georgia to Chattanooga, Tennessee where they became club-like women. One sister, Sally Crenshaw, started the first daycare center for Black laboring women, while the other sisters raised children who became a part of the documented Black history of the city.
Learning these stories and the overlapping challenges of both working-class and Black middle-class women’s lives shaped my interest in exploring the connections between the labor resistance of domestic workers and clubwomen.
People usually say: “I understand your interest in Black women and domestic work, but why Irish women?” It was at Spelman College where I could expand my knowledge about race and women’s laboring lives. As a comparative women’s studies major at Spelman College, I had the freedom to think and write freely about race and all of its intersections in relation to women’s labors and migrations across racial identities. While at Spelman, I also had the rare opportunity to learn about and implement feminist research methods through the Spelman Independent Scholars (SIS) program founded by Dr. Gloria Wade Gayles. The tools that I gained from SIS and the comparative women’s studies major allowed me to freely explore the archive where I found connections between the histories of African American and Irish immigrant women.
I am a personal witness to the groundbreaking work that occurs in Black women’s schools. My second book project aims to document this history by tracing the historic labor initiatives nestled inside of Nannie Helen Burroughs’ National Trade School for Women and Girls.