Study Guide

Having Our Say Family

By Sarah and A. Elizabeth Delany with Amy Hill Hearth

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They could read and write, and they hadn't been abused, and their family was still together. That's a lot more than most former slaves had going for them. (2.5.15)

It shouldn't be underestimated how much a solid family life can help someone reach their full potential. It was very common for families to be separated during the slavery era, often out of fear of rebellion or insurgency.

But James Miliam had no white wife, and was entirely devoted to Grandma. They weren't legally married but they lived like man and wife for fifty years and didn't part until death. (2.6.10)

There were plenty of interracial relationships at the time, but marriage laws turned most of them into clandestine affairs. James and Martha, on the other hand, are man and wife, to heck with what the law says. That's love, people.

Mama and Papa were the two busiest people I ever knew, but they always had time for us. They made time for us. (3.8.1)

Nanny and Henry are pros at being parents. They manage to rise up the social ladder and raise a football-team's worth of kids at the same time—impressive.

When a decision had to be made, Sadie had the last word, but Bessie kept everybody in line. (5.15.15)

Among the kids, Sadie is the boss and Bessie is the muscle. To put it in superhero terms: Sadie is Cyclops and Bessie is Wolverine.

We all relied on each other. Throughout the years we lived in Harlem [...] all of the brothers and sisters saw each other at least once a day. (5.20.12)

The kids keep the family together even after they move to Harlem. This not only keeps their bonds alive, but gives each of them the support they need to succeed in their chosen field.

People who don't know nothing about my courting days—don't know I lived a clean life—they kind of raise their eyebrows when I talk about my "daughter." But I don't care. (5.25.32)

Family is deeper than blood. Can't you remember all of Sadie and Bessie's "aunts" and "uncles" at St. Aug's? With that in mind, it's a little less surprising that Bessie would treat a girl with no relation as if she were her flesh-and-blood.

Children who were damaged were not institutionalized the way they are today. At least, among colored families, that was the way it was. (6.26.2)

Bessie would never even consider throwing family by the wayside just because it was convenient—that's not what Delanys do. Instead, she and Sadie treat Little Hubie as if he were the greatest thing since sliced bread.

"You're going to give up your career to take care of your mama!?" And I said, "Honey, let me tell you something. If you had my Mama you wouldn't think twice." (6.28.3)

Nanny sacrificed a lot for her children, so it's only right that Bessie pays her back. After all, Bessie would never have reached the heights of success that she did if her mother hadn't sacrificed so much for her sake.

She didn't want brass fixtures that gleamed like gold; she wanted me. She was an old lady and she wanted her child to just sit with her, to be near her. (6.28.5)

At first, Bessie feels pressure to keep their house looking pristine for her mom's sake, but the reality is much simpler—Mom just wants to spend time with her daughter. Bessie will understand this more once she gets older herself.

Tell you the truth, I wouldn't be here without sister Sadie. We are companions. (7.32.5)

Although everyone in the family is tight, there's no one as knotted-up as Sadie and Bessie. It's a knot that lasts over a hundred years, so we hope you understand when we say that sisters rule.

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