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Mildred Johnson


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Alice Childress (1920—1994)

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In Alice Childress's Like One of the Family… Conversations from a Domestic's Life (1956) is one of the most memorable characters ever created in African American literature. A day worker who goes from house to house across New York City, Mildred enlightens her white employers about their own foibles related to race, class, and gender biases. She is motivated by her conscience to help her employers see their condescension and make changes. Mildred, a consummate storyteller, informs her best friend, Marge, about the daily confrontations with her white employers. Each of the sixty-two short conversations that Mildred has with Marge serves to comment on the social tensions of the 1950s while countering myths about African Americans and their place in society. Mildred is bold, witty, vivacious, and intellectually superior. Instead of quietly accepting abuses, she speaks out not only for herself but for all domestics. She uses humor and cunning to insist upon better wages and working conditions. Mildred also serves as the voice of nationalistic pride, which places her in the context of other great African American spokespersons such as Olaudah Equiano, Martin R. Delany, Marcus Garvey, and Langston Hughes. Mildred, as mouthpiece for Childress, highlights the accomplishments of African Americans. Childress's Mildred, a supermaid, serves as heroine of the Black working class in the tradition of Langston Hughes's Jesse B. Simple. Childress's Mildred voices with aplomb the frustrations and joys of the little people, the masses of poor, invisible people who have the power to disrupt life if they so choose.

Trudier Harris, introduction to Like One of the Family: Conversations from a Domestic's Life, 1956; rpt. 1986.

— Elizabeth Brown-Guillory

Subjects: Literature.


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