Having Our Say (Delany)

Discussion Questions 
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Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for Having Our Say:

1. How would you describe the sisters' personalities? How are they similar to one another, and how are they different?

2. What special qualities enabled the two young women to succeed in the academic and professional worlds at a time when it was difficult for any women, let alone women of color, to even consider careers?

3. What early influences shaped the sisters' future paths? Talk about what life was like for them as young girls in the 1890's—their family and life on the campus of St. Augustine's—and how different it was for most African Americans in that time and place.

4. Consider the unusual Delany family background, which included a Virginia slave and his white mistress in 1812, and a free black woman and white farmer forbidden by law to marry but who remained together.  

5. Why did neither sister choose to marry? Talk about the ways marriage would have altered the course of their lives. Do you think the two might they have made different choices today? What kind of husbands would you wish for them?

6. The women prefer the use of "colored" and "Negro" to "black" or "African-American." Why is that? How do those terms sound today?

7. Why did Sadie and Bessie believe racism was a more pernicious form of oppression than sexism? Do you agree or disagree?

8. Talk about the ways in which the Jim Crow laws changed the sisters' idyllic childhood. The two reacted differently to the new laws. Which sister would you have been more like?

9. What do you make of Father Delany's remark to Sadie: "You are college material. You owe it to your nation, your race, and yourself to go. And if you don't, then shame on you!" Why "shame on you"—what did he mean?

10. The two women lived during three remarkable eras in US history: the onset of Jim Crow, the Harlem Renaissance, the Civil Rights movement. They befriended luminaries such as Booker T. Washington, Cab Calloway, Marian Anderson, and Adam Clayton Powell. What most surprised you about those times? What did you learn about Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement, or Harlem Renaissance that you were unaware of? In other words, what have you learned about US history from this book?

11. What do you think of Bessie's statement that blacks must be sharp to succeed, but that "if you're average and white, honey, you can go far. Just look at Dan Quayle [US vice president under the first George Bush]. If that boy was colored he'd  be washing dishes somewhere"? Is that an accurate statement of the forces arrayed against African-Americans?

12. Do you have a favorite sister?

13. There is a good deal of humor in the book. What made you laugh?

14. Consider watching the 1999 film (made for TV) and comparing it to the book. How well does the film do in portraying the book and the Delany sisters?

(Questions issued by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks)

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