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What was "the promise of patriarchy" for 20th-century African American women? To Nation of Islam (NOI) adherents and some outsiders between 1930 and 1975, the promise of reversing white supremacy over a "lost" oppressed people meant the recovery of a divinely-ordained black male supremacy over history, nation, community, and the family unit. But creating and adhering to this divine social order required black women's crucial support. They invested in the NOI for its promise of their deliverance from poverty, their social and financial protection by black male husbands/fathers, and the ultimate promise of prosperity for a people facing violent Jim Crow segregation and blighted urban deindustrialization.
The Promise of Patriarchy: Women and the Nation of Islam is the result of Ula Y. Taylor's comprehensive scholarship on black women's important choices to build the Nation of Islam (194). The substantial presence of black women—NOI "Sisters"—in the religion's history is essential to representing their institutional and social labor to build a new religious nation. Their presence was central, peripheral, enduring, transitory, controlling, as well as challenging. And at times, the promises of a black male-dominated religious movement required women's efforts at "trumping patriarchy" (Taylor's term for practical social maneuvering around men's authority when women were unable to acquire formal authority). Through selectively yielding to and resisting black men's authority, NOI Sisters who trumped patriarchy acquired "short-term leadership," often exercised through "husband management," which afforded many women "self-preservation" in a system that did not intend for them to gain such social authority. However, it was their work to trump patriarchy that ultimately served to maintain this patriarchal system for NOI women.