LaShawn Harris

Sex Workers, Psychics and Number Runners

Black Women in New York City's Underground Economy

University of Illinois Press 2016

New Books in African American StudiesNew Books in American StudiesNew Books in Gender StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in SociologyNew Books Network November 3, 2016 Lilian Calles Barger

LaShawn Harris is an assistant professor of history at Michigan State University. Sex Workers, Psychics and Number Runners: Black Women in New York City’s...

LaShawn Harris is an assistant professor of history at Michigan State University. Sex Workers, Psychics and Number Runners: Black Women in New York City’s Underground Economy, (University of Illinois Press, 2016) offers a colorful look at the lives of black urban women who worked and lived in the space between the legitimate and illegal economy. Her subjects are women not previously considered in histories of the working class: mothers, single ladies, churchwomen, hustlers, and partygoers who worked in the underground economy. Motivated by many factors, they sought economic autonomy, to provide for their families, or individual pleasure and fulfillment. The underground economy offered women a break from middle class respectability and opportunities to forge complex identities of self-sufficiency and an escape from the confines of New Negro womanhood. Working outside the wage system in illegal gaming, sex work or as supernatural consultants, they experienced the dangers and thrill of illicit trade, and challenged black progressive crusaders and promoters of racial uplift. As entrepreneurs and cultural produces, they reinforced and reconfigured the race, gender and class hierarchies of black urban life.


Lilian Calles Barger, www.lilianbarger.com, is a cultural, intellectual and gender historian. Her current book project is entitled The World Come of Age: Religion, Intellectuals and the Challenge of Human Liberation.

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