The Path We Tread

In this updated and expanded third edition of the now-classic text The Path We Tread: Blacks in Nursing Worldwide, 1854-1994, by pioneering African-American nursing educator and leader Dr. M. Elizabeth Carnegie, the author’s intentions are to introduce to some, and reaffirm to others, the positive image of black nurses and their many contributions to the profession of nursing over the last 140-plus years.

If you have not read the first or second editions of this award-winning book, this latest version will provide an informative history of the challenges and accomplishments of black nurses. For those who are followers of the series, the third edition updates all applicable chapters and adds two all-new chapters that broaden the book’s international scope.

The book’s content facilitates readability with an extremely well-organized format. The chapters are appropriately titled to create the impression that the reader is tracing the steps of a trail these nurses blazed. The book begins with the earliest documented accounts of black nurses who treated the wounded on various 19th century battlefields and culminates with the present-day accomplishments of black nursing leaders who have risen to highly esteemed positions in the military and other areas of government.

Chapter 1, “Answering the Call,” describes some of the first black nurses’ roles during three early wars extending from 1853 to 1898. The author gives a concise historic account of each of those wars, followed by a brief biography of some of the most renowned nurses who served in them. Among those highlighted are Mary Seacole (the Crimean War), Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and Susie King Taylor (the Civil War) and Namahyoke Curtis (the Spanish-American War).

The second chapter, suitably titled “The Foundation Is Laid,” chronicles the establishment of nursing programs at historically black institutions as early as 1866 and describes how these learning institutions were designed to formally educate black nurses. These early programs were categorized as either “basic” (diploma, associate and baccalaureate programs) or “post-basic” (master’s degree programs and non-degree programs in nurse-midwifery and public health nursing). Dr. Carnegie details the challenges these programs faced as well as their successes and growth.

“From Dreams to Achievements,” Chapter 3, examines several key national initiatives that were devised to recruit more blacks and other people of color into the nursing profession in the 20th century. Dr. Carnegie describes how some of these recruitment projects were born out of necessity, such as the urgent need for nurses created by World War II. Others were created as a result of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Of course, after achievements comes recognition–but for black nurses, it did not come easily. Chapter 4, “Struggle for Recognition,” addresses the barriers of racial discrimination faced by these credentialed black nurses seeking acceptance in America’s majority nursing organizations. It also provides inspiring examples of management and leadership positions attained by qualified black nurses on both national and international levels.

Pathfinders and Pioneers

Chapter 5 continues this theme by celebrating the pathfinders who fought to overcome racial barriers and, by becoming “firsts” in various areas, paved the way for other black nurses to follow. Some of the pioneers featured in this chapter include Dr. Beverly Clair Robinson, the first chair of the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) Commission on Certification, and Jessie Sleet Scales, the first black public health nurse in the United States.

Chapter 6, “So Proudly We Hail,” focuses on the hardships faced by black nurses who had gained the right to serve in our country’s wars but were otherwise treated as second-class citizens because of their ethnicity. Dr. Carnegie spotlights the triumphs of black nurses in the armed forces and in important government agencies such as the U.S. Public Health Service and the Department of Veterans Affairs. This chapter also has excellent photographs of some of these nurses in uniform.

The last two chapters, exclusive to this third addition, discuss the challenges and accomplishments of black nurses in the English-speaking countries of Africa and the Caribbean. Illustrations of relevant maps and a short description of each of these countries are included. The addition of these new chapters expands and substantiates the book’s subtitle of Blacks in Nursing Worldwide.

The book also includes an extensive collection of additional informative resources, including a bibliography, a chronology and numerous illustrations that allow the reader to see portraits and group photos of many of the nursing champions discussed in the text. There are also eight appendices, listing black nursing leaders past and present, that serve as an outstanding reference source. These lists include black deans and nursing program directors, charter members of prominent black nursing organizations, recipients of the American Nurses Association’s Mary Mahoney Award, and black Fellows of the American Academy of Nursing (FAANs).

Living History

One of The Path We Tread’s greatest strengths is that Dr. Carnegie is the ideal historian. She has lived through almost nine of the 13 decades this book encompasses and has traveled many of these same pathways during her own groundbreaking nursing career, which spans 60-plus years. Therefore, the author brings a wealth of first-hand information to the table, yet her proficient writing expertise enables her to present the facts objectively without attempts at personal analysis or predictions. When she does write about her own personal experiences, this added perspective seems to make the book come to life. It helps enhance the accurate facts and impeccable research that are deeply drilled into the pages.

Another reason why this book is essential reading is the proven success of the first two editions. In fact, they were so successful that Dr. Carnegie was requested to write the third. Together these writings correct the scarcity of available historical data on black nurses.

The new edition’s one weakness is that the references cited at the end of each chapter and in the general bibliography do not contain any online resources. Because information retrieval today relies so heavily on the Internet, the book falls short in this area. Many of the institutions and organizations discussed in the text have Web sites and probably had them at the time of publication, yet this information is not included.

Like its predecessor editions, the target audience for this important book is nurses both novice and seasoned, of all races and genders. It is also an ideal classroom text for giving students a more factual and diverse perspective of nursing history with emphasis on the black nursing experience. In today’s world, where cultural diversity has finally begun to take its rightful place, the mere title of this book should spark the interest of current and future generations of nurses and inspire upcoming minority nurse leaders to embrace this profession with a true sense of pride in their professional heritage.

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