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Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years

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In their 200+ combined years, Sadie and Bessie Delany have seen it all. They saw their father, who was born into slavery, become America's first black Episcopal bishop. They saw their mother--a woman of mixed racial parentage who was born free--give birth to ten children, all of whom would become college-educated, successful professionals in a time when blacks could scarcely expect to receive a high school diploma. They saw the post-Reconstruction South, the Jim Crow laws, Harlem's Golden Age, and the Civil Rights movement--and, in their own feisty, wise, inimitable way, they've got a lot to say about it.More than a firsthand account of black American history, "Having Our Say" teaches us about surviving, thriving, and embracing life, no matter what obstacles are in our way.

320 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published January 1, 1993

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About the author

Sarah L. Delany

6 books23 followers
Sarah Louise "Sadie" Delany (September 19, 1889 – January 25, 1999) was an African-American educator and civil rights pioneer who was the subject, along with her younger sister Elizabeth "Bessie" Delany, of the New York Times bestselling oral history, Having Our Say, by journalist Amy Hill Hearth. Sadie was the first Black person permitted to teach domestic science at the high-school level in the New York public schools, and became famous, with the publication of the book, at the age of 103.

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5 stars
5,990 (43%)
4 stars
4,940 (35%)
3 stars
2,307 (16%)
2 stars
416 (3%)
1 star
177 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 630 reviews
Profile Image for Bill Kerwin.
Author 1 book81.2k followers
March 10, 2020

An absorbing, likable book about two aged sisters who tell the story of their family's rise from slavery to the ranks of the black middle-class. Particularly memorable on the Harlem Renaissance.
Profile Image for Cheryl .
9,051 reviews391 followers
October 30, 2018
I don't know if this really a five star book, but I read it when it first came out, when I was in my early 30s, and I have often thought of it in the years since. I wanted to read it again, so about a decade ago I picked up a copy and saved it for a rainy-day comfort/ inspiration read. Well, now I'm using for a 'read a bestseller challenge' *and* for personal inspiration, and it's just as wonderful as I remember. I love these women's voices, and love learning about history from their experiences.

"Life is short and it's up to you to make it sweet." (Well, if Sadie says 103 is 'short' I better get going on making the most of my next 5 decades!)

The journalist who edited their stories deserves credit, too. And the pictures are interesting, in that they're family photos that also reveal history.
Profile Image for Gayle.
430 reviews19 followers
May 12, 2012
What a WONDERFUL book!!! This is an oral history taken from the Delany sisters by Amy Hill Hearth, otherwise I would have shelved it as an auto-biography. I felt as if by hugging the book I would have been able to hug these amazing centenarians!! They have since passed away, but their accomplishments and outlook on life will continue to be read and appreciated (I hope by MANY people). There are so many words of wisdom, so many observations and experiences, so much applicable insight I would like to quote, but I'll just share one that made me (and Doug) guffaw: "When Negroes are average, they fail, unless they are very, very lucky. Now, if you're average and white, honey, you can go far. Just look at Dan Quayle. If that boy was colored he'd be washing dishes somewhere." Okay, okay... I'll give you one more quote regarding David Duke, an infamous racist: "....I'm just as good as an American as he is - BETTER! Yes, I think I'm going to write a letter, and I'm going to say, "Dear Mr. Duke: This is just to set the record straight. I am a Negro woman. I was brought up in a good family. My Papa was a devoted father. I went to college; I paid my own way. I am not stupid. I am not on welfare. And I'm NOT scrubbing floors. Especially not YOURS."" Please read this book - you'll be glad you did! It's a keeper for my bookshelves!
Profile Image for Faith Justice.
Author 11 books60 followers
September 4, 2010
A delightful read! I sailed through it in just a week of bus and subway rides. These two sisters lived remarkable lives and have much to teach about tolerance and perseverance. The copyright on the book is 1993 and I wanted to find out what happened to these lovely ladies, so I Googled them and found they published a second book "The Delaney Sisters' Book of Everyday Wisdom" and inspired a Broadway play. Bessie (Dr. Anna Elizabeth Delaney) passed on at age 104 in September 1995. Sadie (Sarah L. Delaney) wrote a final book "On My Own at 107: Reflections on My Life Without Bessie" before her death at the age of 109 in January 1999.
Profile Image for Charlene.
875 reviews73 followers
March 26, 2022
A quick and entertaining memoir . . . 2 sisters, one the first African American domestic science teacher in the New York Public school system and the second one a dentist in practice with her younger brother in Harlem, reflect back on their very long lives and on their amazing family.

The sisters grew up on the campus of St. Augustine's School/College, an Episcopal school in Raleigh, North Carolina for African Americans that had educated their parents and then employed them & educated their 10 children. Their father was born enslaved in St. Mary's, Georgia but the "Surrender" as he called it, came when he was a young child and he grew up with strong parents and family, learning to be a brick mason and builder, but going off to college when the opportunity offered. Their mother was the daughter of a free woman of mixed parentage and a white man, who lived together openly all their lives but could never marry. The mother could easily have passed as white but did not.

The sisters saw Jim Crow tighten racism's vise in their late childhood; after teaching for a few years in the South, they moved to Harlem for more education and to join other siblings. Here, they made their lives and careers and were a part of the Harlem Renaissance, only to see the Depression sweep it away. They were active in the civil rights and protests in the 1920s; cheer leaders for it in the 1960s, knew the prominent folks over their many decades (Booker T. Washington, William DuBois, Adam Clayton Powell, Martin Luther King, etc.)

I think I read this when it first came out in the 1990s but have more of an appreciation for it now. Also interesting to read soon after the historical novel, The Personal Librarian, since it covers roughly the same time period.

I enjoyed the history and the anecdotes but there's also good life advice for us all throughout this book.
Profile Image for Brennan.
2 reviews
November 24, 2007
I think that Having Our Say was a really good book. I thought it was really cool hearing their life story because they have been through so much. I think that my favorite of the sisters was Bessie. Just because she was always willing to say what she was thinking whether or not she would get in trouble for it. I liked Sadie to she always knew when and when not to fight cretin battles. I think the book got more and more interesting as Sadie, and Bessie got older. One of my favorite parts of the book was when they got an apartment with their other siblings in New York. Another one of my favorite parts of the book was during the Jim Crow law section. When they were at the park and Bessie took some of the white people’s water I thought that was really awesome. I liked how close their whole family seemed to be they all got along and looked out for each other.

I really liked the book near the end when they got that nice house that Bessie found. I also really liked the part where they were talking about the kids in the neighborhood who were massing with everyone’s houses. But they didn’t do anything to Sadie, and Bessie’s house because they would help the kids instead of just yelling at them. Overall I think that this is a really good book. I think that it is important for people to read this story because these women had a lot to say.
Profile Image for Katie.
4 reviews
November 14, 2007
Having Our Say is outstanding. it gives you a better understanding of how it felt be be a black person in the slave days. Having Our Say is narrated by two female black sisters. Sadie and Bessie. they are total opposites and equal each other out. they have been through many rough times and learned a lot together. the touffest times that they went through happened when they were young. even though they were mixed, they got no respect from the Whites. and even some blacks did not respect them. they grew up on a college campus where there dad worked. they said it was the coolest thing. the two sisters never left each others sides. when they were older and after their parents had died, they moved into a house of there own. they would garden and love life. this book has so many stories that are both sad and funny. these two ladies had a lot of potential to live and be happy. they kept each other alive. dont walk, RUN to the nearest library and get Having Our Say by Amy Hill Hearth
Profile Image for Wilhelmina Jenkins.
242 reviews204 followers
August 21, 2008
Warm, funny, heartrending, enlightening - the Delany sisters' book was just amazing. Because of their family and their own determination, these women personally experienced so much of the good and the bad of this country over a century of living. Reading about the Delany sisters and their family makes it impossible to jump to any quick conclusions about the experiences of African Americans. I would make this book required reading for all Americans.
Profile Image for Maggie.
884 reviews
March 2, 2009
This is a delightful small memoir of the lives of two 100-year-old African-American sisters who suffered under Jim Crow and other repressive situations, yet managed to be college educated (one a dentist, the other a teacher) and homeowners.

These ladies are absolutely irrepressible! They say whatever they think. Such as: “You see, when you are colored, everyone is always looking for your faults. If you are going to make it, you have to be entirely honest, clean, brilliant, and so on. Because if you slip up once, the white folks say to each other ‘See, what’d I tell you,’ So you don’t have to be as good as white people, you have to be better or the best. When Negroes are average, they fail, unless they are very, very lucky. Now if you‘re average and white, honey, you can go far. Just look at Dan Quayle. If that boy was colored he’d be washing dishes somewhere.” and “It’s interesting the way folks have become interested in Malcolm X again. A lot of the things he said were true, but he said them so bluntly that white folks were scared to death of him. It was easier for white folks to admire Martin Luther King, because he was less threatening to them.” and “For instance, everybody knew that Nestle’s would hire Negroes, but Hershey’s wouldn’t once I had encountered that, I used to walk through Harlem and scold any Negro eating a Hershey bar. Usually, they would stop eating it, but sometimes they thought I was crazy. Well honey, I do not allow Hershey candy in my home to this day.”

A quick read. I would have given the book a 4 1/2 had the site had that capacity. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Margie.
400 reviews1 follower
August 17, 2013
Wonderful! Sadie and Bessie Delany lived to be 109 and 104 respectively and at ages 103 and 101 were full of stories about their lives growing up in North Carolina and then later in Harlem. Their father was born a slave, but became a very well educated man and the first black Episcopal bishop in the United States. Their mother was a teacher.

All 10 of the Delany children went to college and had professional careers - lawyer, teacher, doctor, dentist, musician, etc. Bessie was a dentist, the second black woman dentist in New York and Sadie taught home economics at New York high schools for almost her entire career. Both Sadie and Bessie received their degrees from Columbia University - Sadie, a Masters in Education, and Bessie a D.D.S.

Their book is an amazing memoir that spans 100 years of the 20th century and reaches back to the Civil War with stories of their ancestors.

As Sadie and Bessie aged, Sadie, the older sister, motivated and inspired her sister every day. In the morning when Sadie woke up, she would say, "Thank you, Lord, for another day." She would then go to wake Bessie who would say, "Oh, Lord, another day!"

The sisters also wrote another book, "The Delany Sisters' Book of Everyday Wisdom." After Bessie passed away at age 104, Sadie wrote one more book, "On My Own at 107: Reflections on Life Without Bessie." "Having Our Say" was also made into a Broadway play in 1995 which was a wonderful production that I saw at the Mark Taper in Los Angeles.
Profile Image for K.
347 reviews3 followers
February 18, 2011
In Having Our Say Bessie, age 101, and her sister Sadie, age 103, fill this book with humorous and poignant anecdotes while this inspiring dual memoir offers a rare glimpse of the birth of black freedom- and the rise of the black middle class-in America. It is a chronicle of remarkable achievement. Sadie and Bessie Delany recall growing up with eight other siblings in turn-of-the-century North Carolina: their father was born in slavery, yet became the nation's first elected black Episcopal bishop; their mother could have "passed" for white but chose not to.
With irrepressible pluck, the sisters confronted the first days of Jim Crow and legal segregation, and took part in the World War I-era migration North, rising to professional prominence during the heyday of Harlem. Along the way they met such legendary figures as black leaders Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois and entertainers Cab Calloway and Lena Home. Both sisters favored careers over marriage, despite many opportunities. Later, they settled in the still partly-rural Bronx, then integrated a suburban neighborhood in the '50s.

This is a great read for any time, not just Black History Month. What these two ladies and their family accomplished from the end of the civil war to the 1990's is unbelievable. Strong willed, great work and personal ethics, something everyone should aspire to be.
Profile Image for Joy H..
1,342 reviews62 followers
November 24, 2011
_Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years_ (first published in 1993) by Sarah Delany, A. Elizabeth Delany
Added 9/24/11

November 2011: I listened to the audio version of this book. It was read by Whoopi Goldberg who did a great job of narrating the story about the two black Delany sisters who managed to break racial and gender barriers in the early 1900s. An enjoyable and uplifting read.

According to Wiki, the authors were the aunts of science fiction writer Samuel R. Delany, the son of their youngest brother.
Profile Image for BookSweetie.
817 reviews20 followers
February 4, 2010
How many folks are you acquainted with who are over one hundred years old? Well, here is an oral history-style book that gives you that chance to get to know not one, but two such women -- remarkable ones at that. Sarah (Sadie) and A. Elizabeth (Bessie) Delany are a pair of sisters who teamed up with Amy Hill Hearth to tell us their own stories. What a folksy, delightful and worthwhile read! Each sister's singular personality adds a richness to the history and wisdom they share about being children of a man born into slavery in the southern US and a woman of mixed racial background who was born free who together raised their ten children -- all of whom became college educated --to survive and thrive in spite of barriers like Jim Crow laws and discriminatory societal practices. Who are these people? What happened to them and in the world around them during their lives? What challenges did they and those close to them encounter in life? How did they face them? What is it like for them to have lived so long? There are answers to these questions and more in this gem of a book. I finished this book and immediately wanted to know what happened next. If one of these incredibly bonded sisters died, what would that mean for the surviving sister? And which would outlive the other? Well, indeed, there is ANOTHER book titled ON MY OWN AT 107, so when I get my hands on that book, I am guessing some of my questions will find answers.
Profile Image for Mary Mendenhall.
70 reviews
August 16, 2010
I listened to this book a few years back and loved it, so I decided to read it. It's a great account of 2 women who lived for over a century! These African American sisters lived through civil rights, the Depression, World Wars and Vietnam, as well as some personal family tragedies. It's an amazing account of history, as well the story of an exceptional family who rose above oppression, segregation, and racism. All 10 Delaney children were self-educated, professional, respected people- in a time when America did not value diversity. It is actually the Delaney sisters' own words, documented by a journalist. I found this account inspiring and thoroughly enjoyed reading it for the second time. I loved the ending account of Bessie when she talked about the probability of ever having a black president. She considered herself a bit psychic and was doubtful that it would ever happen!
Profile Image for Sandy D..
1,010 reviews32 followers
May 28, 2015
A book club choice that I vaguely remembered being a bestseller about 10 years ago (it was published in 1993).

It was an interesting book, the story of two elderly Black women born in 1889 and 1891 and raised in a large, upper-middle-class academic family. Both Bessie and Sadie put careers and their existing family before their own romantic relationships. One became a dentist in Harlem, the other a schoolteacher.

Their descriptions of Jim Crow, "rebby boys" (racist white boys), differences in their treatment based on shades of skin color, passing (and their mother's choice not to), slave & free ancestors, the Harlem Renaissance, etc. are all fascinating. It's all well told in a first person narrative that switches back and forth between the two outspoken sisters, with minimal additions by the third author/editor.
468 reviews
February 18, 2013
Loved this book. Sarah (Sadie) and Bessie Delany were two of the ten children of a former slave. Both their mother and father were well-educated and passed on their love of learning and service to others to all ten of their children. The two sisters never married and lived together for their entire lives (110 years and 104 years). Fiesty women, both ahead of their time, they were trailblazers for both women and African-Americans. Both had advanced degrees. Sadie became an educator and Bessie, a dentist. In the very last pages of the book, Bessie says, "I guess it will be a thousand years--probably never--before a colored person is elected president of the United States." That's when I cried. Oh, Bessie, if only you'd lived a few more years!
Profile Image for Cheryle.
132 reviews
October 24, 2014
I was intrigued by this book because of its subjects: two mixed-race sisters (who preferred to call themselves "Black"), both of whom lived to be more than 100 years old. They were 102 and 100 years old when the book was written (early '90s), and their father had been born into slavery. He was 8 years old when the Civil War ended, and went on to become the first elected Black Episcopal Bishop in the US.

They discuss growing up in the South, their respective educations, and the Jim Crow years. It's a fascinating perspective, made more significant to me because their father's enslaved years were spent in St Marys, GA, my maternal grandfather's birthplace. A real-life perspective on real-life events.
289 reviews
April 2, 2008
This is a great book about two sisters and their whole lives. Bessie ans Sadie Delany learned to eeal with segragation as two strong 'colored' women. Nothing would stop them from doing what they wanted to do in life, not even racism. They would protest, go to court and do whatever it takes. Sadie and Bessies family motto was "Your job is to help someone" They both had helping professions (doctor and dentist) which were extremly hard to get back in the day as a colored women. I reccomend this book.x
-Vasilia Hangemanole 299pages
Profile Image for Nancy.
11 reviews
April 14, 2008
I read this book and enjoyed it immensely. It's about 2 sisters who lived to be over 100. They grew up in a large family with their dad who was a former slave and minister and school teacher mother. It's history in the making and these 2 remarkable women are really fascinating. Bessie with her fiery, feisty attitude and the quiet Sadie. Both sisters have a great outlook on life and this is such a wonderful and must read. Sadie became a home economics teacher and Bessie a dentist. Really interesting, remarkable, and fascinating. A GREAT BOOK.
Profile Image for Lorena.
240 reviews10 followers
April 9, 2011
Richland County Public Library is kicking off the first "The One Book, One Columbia" with this title. So far, this book has my hooked after the first 12 pages. If you live in Columbia, check this title out from RCPL. Even if you don't live in Columbia, I think this will be a great read :)
Finished this book and I loved it. The stories told by the two sisters carried me through a hundred years of families in the North Carolina and New York.
Profile Image for Patsye.
336 reviews3 followers
April 24, 2013
This was a fascinating read. I really enjoyed the format with the two sisters alternating their voices. I loved reading about their lives and how they persevered and didn't let the twists and turns of life bring them down. My mother lived to 97, and it was interesting seeing the parallels and differences between their lives in the black community and my mother's in the white community, both in the south.
Profile Image for Jane.
374 reviews60 followers
March 27, 2016
4.50 stars - pg/pg13

Loved these sweet, fun & feisty old gals who "tell it like it is"! They were mixed race descendants of slaves, who overcame and became highly educated, with good careers. Unmarried and both over 100 years old, they lived together and laughed together. Reading their story, I felt like I was sitting at their feet absorbing history and pearls of wisdom.
Profile Image for Jena.
488 reviews22 followers
October 12, 2021
I love elderly people so much! Throughout my life, they have always been sweet and wise, and often hilarious. These two wonderful ladies are all that and more. They lived history, and they tell their stories with warmth, honesty, and delightful personalities.
Profile Image for Chino D.
2 reviews
November 27, 2007
"Having Our Say," By Amy Hill Hearth, was one of the worst books I have ever read.
The book focused itself on two women, women that had been alive for over 100 years. I personally think that they acomplished something I could never have done, but the book was boring, slow, and not much action happened throughout the story.

One woman was named Sarah L. Delany, and the other, A. Elizabeth Delany. Or, Sadie and Bessie. The two sisters had been alive since 1890s to the 1990s, Both believing that they still lived to keep one-another living, even after 100 years. "Having Our Say" told the true story of the two 100 year old women, word from word.

Again, not much action took place in this book, so I would not reccommend it to Sci/Fi lovers or war-novel enthusiasts. This book would be more for the mellow and laid back type of person. A person who likes non-violence stories, and is crazy about non-fiction, autobiographies, and biographies.

Profile Image for Nandi Crawford.
342 reviews133 followers
December 5, 2007
This is probably one of my most favorite books. I will tend to agree when the young man said how the deaths of their siblings seemed so rushed, but I really enjoyed reading about these two sisters. That they made it to 100 and lived is a feat all it's own. that they even wrote a book about it is quite another.
Profile Image for Tessa.
236 reviews
March 24, 2013
My mom gave me this book to read when I didn't have anything to read a while back and I was intrigued but not sure how much I would enjoy it. But, it was really interesting to learn about the struggles of the sisters along the paths of their long lives and how they've overcome trials. Not only was it entertaining but also educational.
Profile Image for Katie Tatton.
215 reviews6 followers
April 10, 2008
An easy read. Interesting points of view from two sisters who are each over 100 years old...makes historical events a little more personal when you can read a first hand account of them. Much of the book is devoted to race issues.
29 reviews4 followers
February 9, 2013
I LOVE THIS BOOK! A fascinating look at a segment of our country's history through the lives of two strong, courageous, funny and feisty ladies who lived it. It left me smiling.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 630 reviews

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