As a the Director of the African and African-American Studies program at the University of Memphis, Beverly Bond is a published author and historian whose work focuses on 19th Century African-American history, African-American Women’s History and Memphis History. Much of her research and writing explores the sociopolitical role of black women, particularly freed slaves, in Memphis from 1800 to present. Her newest book, Tennessee Women: Their Lives and Times, Vol. 2, is a highly valuable piece of history and culture that will resonate with women of all ages and backgrounds.
Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Memphis.
How did that inform your research and writing?
I came from a family of very strong women and grew up in a community where women were active as storytellers, organizers and maintainers of secular and religious institutions, preservers of family and community history and culture. Women were also civic and political activists, although they did not hold political offices in Memphis during my formative years. So, it was just natural that I would decide to focus on the female voice and to recognize their integral roles in local, state and national affairs.
Can you tell us a bit about your current book, Tennessee Women: Their Lives and Times, Vol. 2?
Volume 2 of Tennessee Women is more thematic in approach than Volume 1. In Volume 1, the authors focus on the life experiences of 18 Tennessee women across two-and-a-half centuries and the breadth of the state. Volume 2 examines particular themes that have been reflected in the experiences of Tennessee women. A few authors use individual biographies to reflect on these themes but for the most part the thematic thread is explored more broadly. For example, Zanice Bond used the life of Mildred Bond Roxborough to examine the role of young, educated, mostly middle-class African-American women in the NAACP. And yes, there are family connections between Zanice, Mildred and me. I married into this family of strong activist, storytelling, preservers of family and community history. I think all three of us reflect our heritage as “Tennessee women.” Essays by Sarah Silkey, Margaret Caffrey and Sharon Herbers also use the lives of individual women to explore broader themes.
But, for the most part, Volume 2 takes a thematic approach, looking at particular themes in the lives of a subset of Tennessee women. For example, Gary Edwards’s essay focuses on the women in yeoman farming families; Russell Olwell examines the lives of the women who lived and worked at the laboratories in Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Kelly Nelson explores the impact of the women in the United Daughters of the Confederacy in shaping memories of the Civil War in Tennessee; Mary Ellen Pethel brings us female activist and educators in Nashville’s African-American community; while my co-editor, Sarah Wilkerson Freeman, looks at white feminist between 1825 and 1910.
Taken together, Sarah and I have tried to explore over two-and-a-half centuries of women’s lives and experiences across the state; and, given the breadth of this state, that has been quite an undertaking.
What contemporary or historical figures inspire you?
That is a great question and one that I’m not sure I have an answer for. In terms of historical figures, I am absolutely fascinated by Tennessee’s enslaved and free black women, particularly the women in my extensive family network. These women are more often than not anonymous, but the fact that I am who I am today, is a testimony to their strength and “true grit.” My late mother, Freda Franklin Greene, and grandmother, Effie Gary Franklin, were extraordinary women but I’ll have to right another essay on “Tennessee Women” to tell you all about them. In terms of an inspiring contemporary figure, that honor must go to another one of Effie Franklin’s and Freda Greene’s sister, my aunt Jeraldine Franklin Sanderlin. My aunt is the matriarch of the family and the epitome of a “Tennessee woman.” She is well-known for her unwavering commitments to family, church and friends. She is also what one might call a quiet activist who’s been a life member of the NAACP for almost as long as I can remember. She was also a career educator until her early 80s, which was only a few years ago; and she’s always been one of my strongest cheerleaders.
How do you like to relax and unwind?
For relaxation, I like to read. I like serial historical fiction books — the longer the better — because I’m a “mental traveler” to other eras. Most recently, I was caught up in Diana Gabaldon’s very, very long books and, although they’re not all equally as exciting, I can’t wait for the next one (number nine, I think). As for unwinding, I like to “physical travel.” My farthest journeys have taken me to Africa and China, and my closest journeys bring me east to Nashville or further north to visit my daughter, son-in-law and granddaughters in Greenfield, Massachusetts.
Have you spent much time in Nashville? If so, what are some of your favorite places to dine, shop, play, etc.?
I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Nashville doing research, visiting family, and when I served on the board of Humanities Tennessee. My favorite place to eat is Monell’s, and I like to shop at the Cool Springs Galleria. I haven’t had much time to “play” in Nashville — and I can do that in Memphis.
We are so honored to have Beverly share her insight. To purchase Beverly’s book, stop by and visit her at the Southern Festival of Books.