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Part I: Sweet Sadie, Queen Bess
Part II: "I Am Free"
Part III: Saint Aug's
Part IV: Jim Crow Days
Part V: Harlem-Town
Part VI: Ties That Bind
Part VII: Outliving the Rebby Boys


 Study Guide for Having Our Say

The Preface

1. How did the author, Amy Hill Hearth, come to write the book Having Our Say?

2. Describe the first meeting between the author and the Delany sisters. What were Ms. Hearth’s impressions of the sisters that day?

3. Describe the public’s reaction to the story that appeared in The New York Times.

4. At first, the sisters doubted that their stories were interesting enough to become a book. How did they eventually come to view the writing of their story?

5. Describe the structure of the book. For example, who are the narrators? What is the sequence of the story?

 Part I Sweet Sadie, Queen Bess

1. What do we learn about the two sisters simply by reading the title of Part I?

2. Who wrote this first section Sweet Sadie, Queen Bess?

3. What are some of the facts we learn about the Delany family in pages 1 – 11?

4. Sadie notes that their mother and father never called each other by their first names. Why? (p. 9)

5. Sadie spends some time discussing the relative color, or “shade” of the various family members. Why do you think she does this? (See also p. 80 and p.106)

6. At the end of chapter 1, Sadie says she and Bessie “kind of balance each other out.” What does she mean?

7. Based on what you have read so far, compare and contrast Sadie and Bessie. Start a list like the one below. Write it in a separate section of your notebook. Add to the list as you continue reading the book.





Sadie describes herself: “I was a mama’s child and followed my Mama around like a shadow.”  (p.11)


Bessie says, “Sometimes I think it’s my meanness that keeps me going.”   (p. 17)


Bessie believed she was “a little psychic”: even Sadie admitted “Bessie is a little, well, intuitive.” (p. 19)






8. Which does Bessie say was a bigger problem for her: sexism or racism?  (p. 14)   

9. Who were the “rebby boys”? (p. 15)

10. Why don’t the sisters have a phone? How do they cope with not having one?

11. The sisters emphasize the importance of having a sense of humor. Find a few examples where humor helped them through a bad time. 

Part II     “I Am Free!”

1. The sisters’ father, “Papa,” was born into slavery. Sadie and Bessie recall asking him about being a slave and about becoming free. Discuss some of his recollections of:

         a - when news of the “Surrender” came

b - the situation of Papa’s family contrasted with that of most ex-slaves

c - the name Delany

d - learning to read and write

e - Papa’s accomplishments.

2. Describe the sisters’ parents and grandparents, James Miliam and Martha Logan.

3. React to Sadie and Bessie’s statement on page 43: “One thing’s for sure: Those four girls were all only one-quarter Negro, but in the eyes of the world they were colored. It took only one drop of blood for a person to be considered “colored.”


1. What do we learn in the preface to Part III about the importance of education to black Americans?

2. Why were “black colleges … the crucial stepping-stone to progress…”? (p. 56)

3. According to Sadie and Bessie, what was the situation of many former slaves? How did the sisters’ parents treat former slaves who were “down on their luck?”         

4. On page 86 Bessie says, “We lived a clean life, but, Lord, we had a good time.” What kinds of things did the Delanys do for a “good time?”

5. React to Bessie’s comment at the end of page 87: “We were good citizens, good Americans. We loved our country, even though it didn’t love us back.”


1. What do we learn in the preface about Jim Crow laws? Click here to see a collection of Jim Crow laws.

2. a. According to Sadie and Bessie, what was the reason  Jim Crow laws were passed?   (p. 93)

    b. Describe the “pecking order.”

3. Describe the sisters’ first encounter with Jim Crow. 
(p. 95)

4. How did Papa “put his money where his mouth was”? (p. 97; See also p. 102)

5. Sadie says on page 103, “I never let prejudice stop me from what I wanted to do in this life.” Retell her anecdote about the shoe store that illustrates her point.

6. Contrast Bessie and Sadie’s reactions to racism. How did each cope with it? (p. 105)  Add this to the list you began in Part I question #7.

7. Bessie mentions “the worst news imaginable” – lynching. Are these stories of lynching a surprise to you? What did you know about the subject before reading this book? To learn more about this topic go to 

8. On pages 112 – 3, Sadie tells us her father insisted she go to college, but NOT take a scholarship. Why does he insist she not take a scholarship? Do you think he was right?

9. On p. 114 – 115, Sadie mentions Booker T. Washington, reminding us that the Delanys knew many of the most influential black leaders, artists and thinkers of the time. Learn more about Booker T. Washington by clicking here. List three facts about Washington that you think are important.

10. Sadie describes her courtship by one of her
”gentleman friends.” Describe her “dates.” Interview an older person in your family or neighborhood. Ask them to describe a typical courtship when they were young. Was it more similar to Sadie’s experience or to today’s customs?

11. What do Sadie and Bessie say about the fact they never married?

12. Bessie recalls hearing about the sinking of the Titanic. Describe her reaction to the news.   (p. 127)

13. In 1913 Bessie came close to being lynched. Describe what happened.  What is Sadie’s reaction to Bessie’s behavior?  (p. 130)


1. In the preface we are introduced to the Harlem Renaissance and to the people and places that made Harlem the spiritual and cultural center of black America in the 1920s and 30s.  Read a bit about one of the famous people mentioned. Share what you learn with your classmates.  

2. Sadie and Bessie describe their first trip to New York City in 1915. How did they react to the sight of the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor – that vision that has thrilled immigrants for more than a hundred years?

3. Sadie and Bessie contrast the demographics of North Carolina with what they encountered in New York City. How were the two cities different? What do you think Sadie and Bessie would say if they came to New York City for the first time today? (p. 139 – 40)

4. Sadie and Bessie mention that their brother Harry was working as a Pullman porter at the time. Click here to learn more about the important American, A. Phillip Randolph, who organized the Pullman sleeping car porters. This union became the first powerful black labor union.  Write two important facts you learned about this man and his achievements.

5. Explain why the sisters say that World War I “happened overseas but…created bloodshed among us here at home.”  (p. 144)

6. In Chapter 16, Sadie describes Harlem (and all New York) as happier places back then. Interview someone who has lived in Harlem (or anywhere in New York City) for at least 25 years. Ask them to compare the city then and now. Share what you learn with the class.

7.      a. Why did Sadie have a hard time at Pratt     

b. React to her comment on p 149: “The problem is, you don’t always know for sure whether people are being nasty because you’re colored, or for some other reason.”

8. Why does Sadie say she had a happier time at Columbia?   (p. 150)

9. Why did Sadie decide to stay in New York after she graduated from Columbia?  (p. 152)

10. Bessie again discusses the challenge of sexism on top of racism. (pp. 153, 178, 202) (See also Part I, question 8)  In a separate section of your notebook, begin a list like the one below of some of the incidences of racism the sisters describe. Include examples from earlier in the book and add to the list as you read along.


     Incidences of Racism Cited in the Book

What Happened

Page #


1. When Bessie was in dental school, her professor failed one of her assignments.

 A white friend handed in the same assignment. This time the teacher passed it.








159 -160

11. What is Bessie’s opinion of Affirmative Action laws? (p. 156) Do you agree with her? Before you answer, be sure you understand what these laws are; read a bit about them by clicking here: Affirmative Action laws.

12. What does Bessie say about a woman combining marriage and a career? (pp. 157- 8) Do you think this is still true today? Explain.

13     a. What conclusion does Bessie draw about what a black person must do if he or she is “going to make it”?  (p. 161 - see also Sadie p. 167)

 b. Do you think things have changed?

 c. Do you think other minorities suffer equally  from these problems?

14. Sadie made extra money baking and selling cakes and candy, but eventually gave it up because the Depression had begun. How much do you know about the Depression? Do some research to find out about the stock market crash of 1929 and the crippling economic depression that followed. Go to: and search for "Great Depression in the United States."

15. How did Sadie manage to become the first “colored” teacher in New York City to teach domestic science in a high school?   (p. 170)

16. One of the recurring themes of the book is hard work. How does Bessie describe her working life in chapter 19?  (p. 183)

17. Why didn’t the sisters support the baseball team that eventually became the Yankees?

18. An acquaintance of Bessie’s, Albert Robinson, encountered a Columbia University professor who claimed Negroes were inferior to white people. How did Bessie react?   (p. 197)

19. Why does Bessie say that sit-ins were not her “style of activism”? (p. 197-8)

20. Describe Bessie’s encounter with the Ku Klux Klan. (p. 199)

21. Bessie tells us there were two extremes in black political activism – that of W.E.B. DuBois on the one hand and Booker T. Washington on the other. Compare and contrast the goals and methods of these two leaders. In addition to the information in Having Our Say, click here to read about them in the Britannica Guide to Black History. 

22. What does Bessie say was “one of the happiest days” of her life? (p. 202)

23. As we have seen, the Delanys knew most of the prominent black Americans of the times. In chapter 23 we learned their brother Hubert knew Fiorello LaGuardia. Describe the relationship between Hubert Delany and Fiorello LaGuardia.  (p. 213-14)

24. After the sisters’ mother moved to New York, she and Sadie took many trips together. Sadie describes a memorable moment in London when they say Paul Robeson appear in Othello. In addition to the information on page 216, learn more about Robeson by clicking here.

25. How did Sadie, her mother, sister and brother avoid “trouble” on their car trip to Los Angeles?  (p. 218-19)

26. Bessie talks about the Depression in Chapter 25. How does she contrast the situation of white and black people during this difficult time?


1. In the preface, the author describes the effects of the 1929 stock market crash and the Great Depression and World War II.  Discuss some of the effects she mentions.  (p. 235 – 7)

2.  Despite a lifetime of suffering from racism, the Delany family felt that nothing could stop them from achieving their goals. It took a family tragedy for the Delanys to realize “you can’t always get what you want in life.” What happened? (p. 244)

 3. Describe the experience of racism suffered by the sisters’ brother Manross during World War II.  (p. 247)

4. Eventually the sisters decided one of them would have to quit working to take care of their mother. How did they decide which one would quit?   (p. 251)

5. Describe what Bessie calls her mother’s “greatest moment as an old lady.” (p. 255) Click here to learn more about Marian Anderson. And to see a portrait of Marian Anderson by Jacob Lawrence, go to Portrait of Marian Anderson on the LINKS page.


1. Talk a little about the sisters’ life after their mother died.   (Chapters 29 – 31)

 2. What did the sisters do to maintain good health?  (Chapter 31)

 3. It is Bessie who has “the last word” in the book. Explain what she means in the last sentence. Do you think this is an effective ending to the story of the Delany sisters?

4.  Share the list you compiled comparing and contrasting the sisters with your classmates. (Part 1, question 7 of this study guide).  Which of the incidents in your list did you find the most compelling? Why?

 5.  Refer to the list of incidences of racism you began in Part 5, question 10. Compare your list with those of your classmates. How do you think the sisters managed to cope so well with such adversity. How do you think YOU would have reacted? How did creating and reading this list make you feel? See also essay question #7 in the Essay Topics and Projects section of this web site.


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