Nikki Giovanni, the poet, used to tease her sorority sister, Jeanne Noble, that finishing her history of black women "was like a baby she wouldn't deliver." Waving a felt tip pen yesterday after autographing nearly 300 copies of "Beautiful, Also, Are the Souls of My Black Sisters" Noble sighed, "it was an eight-year struggle and $65,000 of my own money. Nobody came to me with any grants,"
Her sorority sisters applauded her sarcasm, egging her on for more insights. "This book will show how black women got through slavery, reconstruction, segregation, discrimination, and God willing, affirmative action," said Noble, drowned out by cheers.
Noble, who originated the Job Corps idea and held appointments under Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon, is a psychologist and historian who teaches at Brooklyn College. She was the guest at a book party at Howard University organized by area members of Delta Sigma Theta sorority. The Deltas are the largest black women's service organization in the U.S. and provide an informal underground distribution system for members' books and records.
For the Washington audience, it was the second time this week a black woman writer has visited the city, urging black women to define themselves. Though Noble and Michele Wallace, author of "Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman," are receiving their primary support from women's groups, perspectives of the groups vary.
"I've not been reviewed in Ms. magazine. Check it out," said Noble, whose book was published last summer by Prentice-Hall.
"The important point is that black women are pushing their own ideas. I have liked the portions I read from each book," said Ethel Briggs, a vocational rehabilitation counselor for the District government. Most of the 200 women at the party had not read either book, but felt the discussions they have provoked about black male and female relationships were healthy.
Noble and Wallace share a view that the contemporary black woman is relatively powerless and vulnerable and both recognize the existence of black male chauvinism. But they have divergent explanations for topics such as interracial dating and empathy toward the women's liberation movement.
"I think she (Wallace) is simply too young (27) to have a historical perspective," said Noble, who is more than 20 years older.
Esther Peterson, President Carter's adviser on consumer affairs, worked with Noble on an early women's commission. "she was a rock of understanding and support for me during that black-power period when those of us who were white, who had tried to identify, found we were not needed. Or wanted," said Peterson, When Noble saw Peterson approaching the table she quipped, "food's too high."
Show-business history is obviously one of Noble's favorites and she devotes a chapter of her book to black women entertainers.
In referring to her sorority sisters, she used the word "dames" a couple of times. "that's show business, but look out when I call you broads," she laughed.