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December 16, 1990|Charles Solomon

WILLIE MAE by Elizabeth Kytle (EPM: $12.95) Initially published in 1958, "Willie Mae" was one of the first books to bring the contemporary problems of African-Americans (especially African-American women) to the attention of a large national audience. As a teen-ager, Willie Mae Wright had to become a "do-er," performing whatever domestic work she could find to feed her younger siblings and, later, her children. This vivid memoir captures the resourceful woman who endured and even enjoyed her life of toil. She loved and respected some of her white employers, but had no qualms about telling others they were "as common as gully dirt." Although Wright's life included dramatic moments that ranged from meeting President Franklin Roosevelt to learning her cousin had been shot for voting in a Georgia election, it is the ordinariness of her story gives the book its power. Untold thousands of women struggled in similar circumstances, and this record of her daily trials reveals how much the Civil Right Movement accomplished.

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