full title Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years
authors Sarah Louise Delany and Annie Elizabeth Delany, with Amy Hill Hearth
type of work Oral history
genre Nonfiction; dual memoir; American history
time and place written White Plains, New York; 1991–1993
date of first publication 1993
publisher Kodansha America
narrator Amy Hill Hearth offers a preface and provides contextual information at the opening of each of the book’s seven parts. Sadie and Bessie Delany are sometimes the sole narrators and sometimes the combined narrators of chapters.
point of view
tense Primarily the past tense. When the sisters discuss current events or their daily routine, they use the present tense.
setting (time) 1889–1991
setting (place) Hearth conducted the interviews with the Delany sisters at their home in Mount Vernon, New York. Their story takes them from Raleigh, North Carolina, to Harlem in New York City, to Mount Vernon.
protagonist Sarah (Sadie) L. Delany and A. Elizabeth (Bessie) Delany
major conflict The Delany sisters are born into a southern black family at the end of the nineteenth century, a time when racist views are deeply entrenched and dangerous. They must come of age and fulfill their dreams while fighting the mindset and institutions that would deter them.
rising action The Delany parents try to shield their children from racist views, but Sadie and Bessie meet racist whites, whom they call the “rebby boys,” and are aware that their maternal grandparents, a white man and a black woman, cannot marry.
climax Sadie and Bessie encounter the Jim Crow laws on a family picnic to Pullen Park in Raleigh. When the trolley driver tells them to move to the back of the car, the young girls experience institutionalized racism for the first time. This is a climax sustained throughout the narrative, as the women continue to face discrimination in different ways. Their treatment only strengthens their resolve to be successful in their careers.
falling action Sadie and Bessie combat racism in different ways, though both do so persistently and with great determination. Sadie goes quietly and deftly about attaining whatever goal she sets herself, while Bessie speaks up loudly on behalf of herself and others whenever she observes any injustice. By sheer force of will, it seems, the Delany sisters have outlived the rebby boys.
themes The power of naming and name-calling; the pursuit of education; the prevalence of racism and sexism
motifs Shades of black and white; rebby boys; seating arrangements
symbols Home; the painted china doll; Halley’s Comet