Sarah and A. Elizabeth Delany, better known as Sadie and Bessie, were the second and third of ten children born to a former slave father and a mixed-race mother. Their parents met at St. Augustine’s School in Raleigh, North Carolina, before they were married and became directors of the school. Their children, although reared in this sheltered, loving environment, were dispatched one by one to make their own way in the world. Taught always to be decent, respectful, and giving, Sadie and Bessie first became teachers in order to raise money to further their education. They gravitated to Harlem to join older siblings, multitudes of “colored folk,” the Jazz Age elite, and a developing black intelligensia.
Always working, always struggling the sisters chose careers over marriage. Following the footsteps of their father, who became the first African American to be elected bishop in the Episcopal Church, Sadie received a master’s degree from Columbia University and became the first black woman to teach domestic science in the New York School system while Bessie became only the second black woman to become a licensed dentist in New York state. Driven by their parents’ example, the Delany sisters survived Jim Crow laws, the Great Depression, institutional racism, and sexism to achieve their goals without compromising their integrity.
At the age of more than one hundred years each, Sadie and Bessie retell their life story with humor and conviction. Their contrasting and complementary personalities offer a compelling picture of the last century as they experienced, and continue to experience it. Amy Hill Hearth’s sensitive arrangement of countless hours of the Delany sisters’ witty and wise stories makes this unique book wonderfully absorbing reading.