BOOKS IN BRIEF

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The historic contributions of women - especially African-American women - are gradually finding their way into the pages of history.

Reference materials, in particular, have long neglected the lives and works of black women in America. The recent publication of reference books, an anthology, and an autobiography focusing on African-American women is helping to fill this gap.

BLACK WOMEN IN AMERICA: AN HISTORICAL ENCYCLOPEDIA, edited by historian Darlene Clark Hine (Carlson Publishing, 1,530 pp., $195). This two-volume encyclopedia is the first comprehensive reference book to chronicle the role of black women in American history, from the 17th-century to the present.

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"This historic encyclopedia project was initiated to reclaim and to create heightened awareness about individuals, contributions, and struggles that have made African-American survival and progress possible," Ms. Hine writes in the editor's preface.

The two volumes include more than 800 entries, listing individuals, organizations, and general topics related to the history of African-American women. The individual biographies of more than 400 black women range from Maya Angelou to Aunt Jemima, from Harriet Tubman to Rosa Parks, and from Sojourner Truth to Oprah Winfrey.

Biographies of four black men - W. E. B. Du Bois, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, and Marcus Garvey - are included because of their contribution to the progress of black women.

The essay-like entries provide more insight than the typical dry, straightforward encyclopedia listing. Each entry is followed by a brief bibliography offering ideas for further research. More than 400 photographs are interspersed throughout the text.

Volume Two includes a "Chronology of Black Women in the United States." The chronology begins in 1619 when 20 Africans, three of them women, were put ashore off a Dutch frigate at Jamestown, Va. It concludes with 1992 and the election of Carol Moseley Braun (D) of Illinois as the first African-American woman to be elected to the US Senate.

BLACK WOMEN IN WHITE AMERICA: A DOCUMENTARY HISTORY, edited by Gerda Lerner (Vintage, 630 pp., $15). Originally published in 1972, this volume has now been reissued in paperback. The anthology culls sources and voices dating from slavery to the civil rights era.

Through essays, letters, lectures, and articles by African-American women, Dr. Lerner provides insight into their lives. Some of the documentary sources in the book were previously unpublished. The authors include anonymous slaves and slaveholders along with such well-known women as Harriet Tubman, Shirley Chisholm, Sojourner Truth, and Fannie Lou Hamer.

"If there is one theme that can emerge from the documentary record here presented," Lerner writes, "it is the strength, racial pride and sense of community of black women."

A TASTE OF POWER: A BLACK WOMAN'S STORY, by Elaine Brown (Pantheon, 452 pp., $25). Elaine Brown, who led the militant Black Panther Party in the early '70s, offers a more narrow slice of black women's history in her new autobiography.

She tells the story of a "ghetto child" growing up in north Philadelphia, attending a predominantly white school, and dealing with the alienation of her race and sex.

This book does less to record the history of the Black Panther Party than to chronicle the life struggles of one black woman living in a turbulent time.

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