Too Much to Ask

Black Women in the Era of Integration

By Elizabeth Higginbotham

304 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4989-7
    Published: November 2001
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-7527-8
    Published: January 2003
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-6981-4
    Published: January 2003

Gender and American Culture

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In the 1960s, increasing numbers of African American students entered predominantly White colleges and universities in the northern and western United States. Too Much to Ask focuses on the women of this pioneering generation, examining their educational strategies and experiences and exploring how social class, family upbringing, and expectations--their own and others'--prepared them to achieve in an often hostile setting.

Drawing on extensive questionnaires and in-depth interviews with Black women graduates, sociologist Elizabeth Higginbotham sketches the patterns that connected and divided the women who integrated American higher education before the era of affirmative action. Although they shared educational goals, for example, family resources to help achieve those goals varied widely according to their social class. Across class lines, however, both the middle- and working-class women Higginbotham studied noted the importance of personal initiative and perseverance in helping them to combat the institutionalized racism of elite institutions and to succeed.

Highlighting the actions Black women took to secure their own futures as well as the challenges they faced in achieving their goals, Too Much to Ask provides a new perspective for understanding the complexity of racial interactions in the post-civil rights era.

About the Author

Elizabeth Higginbotham is Victor S. Thomas Professor of History and African and African American Studies and Chair of the Department of African and African American Studies at Harvard University. She is coeditor of Women and Work: Exploring Race, Ethnicity, and Class.
For more information about Elizabeth Higginbotham, visit the Author Page.


"Higginbotham provides a compelling portrait of these women, their families, their struggles during the early years of integration, and their fights to achieve success in a racist, sexist, and elitist society."--Journal of American History

"An exemplary study into the early politics of race in higher education."--QBR

"At its heart, Too Much to Ask is poignant and compelling as it explores how social class, family practices and expectations prepared and influenced the lives and educational outcomes of Black women in the 1960s."--Educational Review

"Too Much to Ask is a blueprint for the construction of the African American baby boomer generation."--Women's Review of Books

"Too Much to Ask could prove to be an excellent introductory text for first year education, sociology, or history students."--Contemporary Sociology

"Slightly more than three decades have passed since the women who are central to Elizabeth Higginbotham's study graduated from college, and yet the ways that racism, class background, and gender affected their strategies for achieving a higher education are hauntingly familiar today. In this engaging and important book, Higginbotham provides historical context and vivid personal testimonies to the legacy of Black women's struggles for education and respect in the United States. She demonstrates convincingly that although the price of higher education for Black women has been 'too much to ask,' these women and their families did whatever was necessary to pay it, and did so with pride and dignity."--Bonnie Thornton Dill, University of Maryland at College Park