Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

December 3, 1959

In the December 3, 1959 article titled “20th Century Slavery,” columnist Stanley Robertson of the Los Angeles Sentinel writes of a racket he observed in California. According to Robertson and his sources, local Caucasian families in California were posting ads in southern newspapers, advertising room and board to southern women in exchange for work in their homes. According to Robertson’s sources, the promises made by these families often were not kept, and the transplants found themselves alone in a new place with few options. This article is interesting to me because it never mentions whether the ads were posted in African-American newspapers at the time nor whether the ads targeted black women in particular, but the inclusion of this article in this African-American publication caused me to assume those responding to the ads were predominantly black. Thinking about African-American women migrating to an unfamiliar place inspired me to draw parallels between the twentieth-century slavery mentioned in the title of the article and the “saltwater slavery” of previous centuries.

I chose this article hoping to draw comparisons between the experience of these modern immigrants and those that made the westward voyage from Africa. In her book Saltwater Slavery, Stephanie Smallwood discusses the journey of the “saltwater slave”—those who made the arduous journey from Africa aboard slave ships—arguing that they landed in the New World with no “cognitive map” (Smallwood, 8) or, in other words, no way to center themselves in their new environment. I had hoped this article would shed some light on the emotional experience of the women coerced into servitude in California. Did they experience a similar feeling of displacement, despite the voluntary nature of the migration?

This article doesn't express the feelings of the women who moved to California in search of work other than to highlight their disappointment in not being given what they were promised. Sadly, it doesn’t surprise me that the women who responded to the ads were mistreated and short-changed. To say this seems to be a recurring theme in African-American history is an understatement. 

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