Base Wretches and Black Wenches: A Story of Sex and Race, Violence and Compassion, During Slavery

Posted in Articles, History, Law, Media Archive, Slavery, Texas, United States on 2011-04-04 03:51Z by Steven

Base Wretches and Black Wenches: A Story of Sex and Race, Violence and Compassion, During Slavery

Alabama Law Review
Volume 59 (2008)
pages 1501-1555

Jason A. Gillmer, Associate Professor of Law
Texas Wesleyan School of Law

This Article examines in detail the local and trial records of a nineteenth-century Texas case to tell the story of a white slave master who had a thirty-year relationship with a female slave. This is a story of complexities and contradictions, and it is a story designed to add depth and detail to our current assumptions about the content of sex between the races during slavery times. Indeed, through these local records—a source traditionally underused by legal historians—the Article provides us with a pathway into the consciousness of ordinary people, and suggests a world with much more flexibility and fluidity along the lines of race and slavery than traditional accounts allow. The amount of sexual exploitation that took place under slavery will surprise no one; but, to hear the former slaves who lived on this plantation talk about it, this couple, at least, lived together as man and wife. It is this story—the story of the everyday life of slavery—that this Article seeks to tell, illuminating in the process a social order that was predicated on racial domination yet where men and women, white and black, often defied those ideologies. Ultimately, this Article concludes that the master narrative of rape so familiar to students of the subject is inadequate to account for a case like this, and urges us instead to focus on the fissures and blind spots created in the logic of slavery to further our understanding of the South and the relations between the races.


In 1861, with the country in the midst of the Civil War, John C. Clark died at his home in Wharton County, Texas. He left a large estate, consisting of lands, slaves, and personal assets, valued at almost a half a million dollars. Ten years later, his three adult children filed suit to maintain what, they claimed, rightfully belonged to them. Their only problem: they were—under the law—black, and John Clark had been white.

What ensued was a lengthy trial, consisting of dozens of witnesses testifying about John Clark, his life, his holdings, and his relationship with a “dark mulatto” woman named Sobrina, Clark’s long-time slave and the mother of the three plaintiffs. For Clark died without a will, and since no heirs came forward in the immediate aftermath of his death, the local court ordered his property sold, and then had the proceeds deposited in the public trust. But with that much money at stake, it did not take long for forgotten relatives from as far away as Virginia to descend on the small community, many claiming that they were entitled to the vast estate despite never having met the man whom they now so eagerly embraced. But for the jury listening to testimony in the case of Clark v. Honey these other filings were of little importance. For them, the question of whether the three persons before them were entitled to take under the laws of intestacy was deceptively simple: were they John Clark’s legitimate children, or, stated differently, were John and Sobrina husband and wife?

The ensuing trial and its aftermath, however, proved to be far more complicated than anyone on that mild December day likely could have anticipated. Indeed, the question of whether Clark’s children were entitled to inherit his property took years to resolve—the case and its offshoots occupied the courts for the next several decades—and the issues it raised remain problematic for scholars interested in questions of race and slavery even today. No one doubted then and no one doubts now that white men were involved sexually with their female slaves. But the question of whether terms like “caring,” “devotion,” and “love” can be used to describe these relations remains controversial. Twenty years ago, in her landmark study, Deborah Gray White turned contemporary analysis of the sexual aspects of slavery on its head when she looked at the subject from the perspective of black women, not white men. Since that time, there has been an impressive outpouring of scholarship, reminding us that there was nothing romantic about planters taking advantage of their slave women. Sex in these circumstances was about power: it was brutal, it was ugly, and it was rape.

But to hear John Clark’s former slaves talk about the couple that occupied the small rustic cabin on the banks of the Colorado River, their relationship, at least, was anything but violent. “Clark and Sobrina lived together as man and wife until their deaths,” said one witness.10 Another agreed: “Sobrina had no other husband and Clark no other wife.” Such testimony throws the master narrative of rape into flux, suggesting the need to reexamine the broad generalizations about the nature of these relationships and the people involved. It is unlikely, in this case or in most others, that the relationship ever evolved into an entirely consensual one—Sobrina, after all, remained Clark’s slave until his death, inevitably tilting the relationship toward power and dominance. But if we listen to Clark’s former slaves—witnesses who arguably knew best—the relationship consisted of something more. How much more is the question, and it is the same question that a jury of twelve men were asked to answer in December of 1871, two years after Sobrina, now free, had passed away.

This Article, through the close examination of John Clark’s relationship with Sobrina, seeks to broaden our understanding of sex between the races by focusing on a case that seems both unusual yet strangely emblematic of the South in the years before the Civil War. This is a story of complexities and contradictions, and it is a story which illustrates the importance of taking into account not just the circumstances of brutal exploitation so familiar to students of the subject, but also the rare case of genuine affection. Indeed, the central argument here is that sex between the races was far more complicated than traditional accounts suggest, as blacks and whites, men and women, intermingled with each other in ways that defied both the legal rules and the social conventions of the time. Reducing these cases to simple descriptions of power and powerlessness misses out on the rich details they have to offer, and risks minimizing the impact they had on both the people around them and on the larger community in which the participants lived.

To that end, this Article seeks to take advantage of a recent trend in slavery scholarship, one that draws on local records—and particularly trial records—to make its essential points. These records, as others have stressed, have been a surprisingly underused source among legal historians, a group who has traditionally spent time mining published appellate decisions and statutory provisions for hints of Southern ideologies. Yet trial records open up doors that these traditional sources can never do, by providing us with a window into the consciousness of ordinary people. Through their lawsuits and their testimony, litigants and witnesses argued about nothing of national significance yet about everything that mattered most to them. They fought over property rights and slave sales, over contested wills and slave hires—and in doing so they reveal a world that involved far less adherence to the bright line rules of race and slavery than previous studies would have allowed. Indeed, when it came to such topics as interracial sex and its consequences, guardians of the Southern social order spoke with a uniform voice. “Hybridism is heinous,” Henry Hughes roared in 1854. “Impurity of races is against the law of nature. Mulattoes are monsters.” But at the local level, these seemingly rigid racial lines broke down with considerable frequency. Men left their entire estates to their former slaves; white women divorced their husbands after losing their affections to their black counterparts; and local prosecutors indicted interracial couples for living together as husband and wife. And the communities’ response—through testimony, through verdicts, through the filings of the cases themselves—tells us much about the substance of life of the ground, and about the complex interplay of slavery, race, sexuality, and power, in shaping people’s views of the world in which they lived.

In the end, then, this Article is about more than just John Clark and Sobrina; it is about a society struggling with its own identity. Far from the official ideologies of the South, men and women, blacks and whites, regularly met in the towns and on the streets—sometimes explosively and sometimes on more considerate terms. Yet, in either case, local communities had to reckon with a social order that never was how it was supposed to be. John Clark’s relationship with Sobrina, in other words, like so many others, forced a confrontation over the ideals white Southerners projected about themselves and the stuff of everyday life…

Read the entire article here.

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Census Bureau Reports Final 2010 Census Data for the United States

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, Louisiana, Media Archive, Mississippi, Texas, United States, Virginia on 2011-03-25 02:15Z by Steven

Census Bureau Reports Final 2010 Census Data for the United States

United States Census Bureau
Census 2010

The U.S. Census Bureau announced today that 2010 Census population totals and demographic characteristics have been released for communities in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. These data have provided the first look at population counts for small areas and race, Hispanic origin, voting age and housing unit data released from the 2010 Census. With the release of data for all the states, national-level counts of these characteristics are now available.

For each state, the Census Bureau will provide summaries of population totals, as well as data on race, Hispanic origin and voting age for multiple geographies within the state, such as census blocks, tracts, voting districts, cities, counties and school districts.

According to Public Law 94-171, the Census Bureau must provide redistricting data to the 50 states no later than April 1 of the year following the census. As a result, the Census Bureau is delivering the data state-by-state on a flow basis. All states will receive their data by April 1, 2011.

Highlights by Steven F. Riley

  • The United States population (for apportionment purposes)  is 308,745,538. This represents a 9.71% increase over 2000.
  • The U.S. population including Puerto Rico is 312,471,327.  This represents a 9.55% increase over 2000.
  • The number of repondents (excluding Puerto Rico) checking two or more races (TOMR) is 9,009,073 or 2.92% of the population. This represents a 31.98% increase over 2000.
  • The number of repondents (including Puerto Rico) checking TOMR is 9,026,389 or 2.89% of the population.  This represents a 29.23% increase over 2000.
  • Hawaii has the highest TOMR response rate at 23.57%, followed by Alaska (7.30%), Oklahoma (5.90%) and California (4.87%).
  • California has the highest TOMR population at 1,815,384, followed by Texas (679,001), New York (585,849), and Florida (472,577).
  • Mississppi has the lowest TOMR response rate at 1.15%, followed by West Virginia (1.46%),  Alabama (1.49%) and Maine (1.58%).
  • Vermont has the lowest TOMR population at 10,753, followed by North Dakota (11,853), Wyoming (12,361) and South Dakota (17,283).
  • South Carolina has the highest increase in the TOMR response rate at 100.09%, followed by North Carolina (99.69%), Delaware (83.03%) and Georgia (81.71%).
  • New Jersey has the lowest increase in the TOMR response rate at 12.42%, followed by California (12.92%), New Mexico (16.11%), and Massachusetts (17.81%).
  • Puerto Rico has a 22.83% decrease in the TOMR response rate and New York has a 0.73% decrease in the TOMR response race.  No other states or territories reported decreases.
2010 Census Data for “Two or More Races” for States Above
# State Total Population Two or More Races (TOMR) Percentage Total Pop. % Change from 2000 TOMR % Change from 2000
1. Louisiana 4,533,372 72,883 1.61 1.42 51.01
2. Mississippi 2,967,297 34,107 1.15 4.31 70.36
3. New Jersey 8,791,894 240,303 2.73 4.49 12.42
4. Virginia 8,001,024 233,400 2.92 13.03 63.14
5. Maryland 5,773,552 164,708 2.85 9.01 59.00
6. Arkansas 2,915,918 72,883 2.50 9.07 59.50
7. Iowa 3,046,355 53,333 1.75 4.10 67.83
8. Indiana 6,483,802 127,901 1.97 6.63 69.02
9. Vermont 625,741 10,753 1.71 2.78 46.60
10. Illinois 12,830,632 289,982 2.26 3.31 23.38
11. Oklahoma 3,751,351 221,321 5.90 8.71 41.89
12. South Dakota 814,180 17,283 2.12 7.86 70.18
13. Texas 25,145,561 679,001 2.70 20.59 31.93
14. Washington 6,724,540 312,926 4.65 14.09 46.56
15. Oregon 3,831,074 144,759 3.78 11.97 38.20
16. Colorado 5,029,196 172,456 3.43 16.92 41.14
17. Utah 2,763,885 75,518 2.73 23.77 60.01
18. Nevada 2,700,551 126,075 4.67 35.14 64.96
19. Missouri 5,988,927 124,589 2.08 7.04 51.82
20. Alabama 4,779,736 71,251 1.49 7.48 61.28
21. Hawaii 1,360,301 320,629 23.57 12.28 23.63
22. Nebraska 1,826,341 39,510 2.16 6.72 64.95
23. North Carolina 9,535,483 206,199 2.16 18.46 99.69
24. Delaware 897,934 23,854 2.66 14.59 83.03
25. Kansas 2,853,118 85,933 3.01 6.13 52.10
26. Wyoming 563,626 12,361 2.19 14.14 39.15
27. California 37,253,956 1,815,384 4.87 9.99 12.92
28. Ohio 11,536,504 237,765 2.06 1.59 50.59
29. Connecticut 3,574,097 92,676 2.59 4.95 23.82
30. Pennsylvania 12,702,379 237,835 1.87 3.43 67.23
31. Wisconsin 5,686,986 104,317 1.83 6.03 55.94
32. Arizona 6,392,017 218,300 3.42 24.59 48.98
33. Idaho 1,567,582 38,935 2.48 21.15 52.04
34. New Mexico 2,059,179 77,010 3.74 13.20 16.11
35. Montana 989,415 24,976 2.52 9.67 58.78
36. Tennessee 6,346,105 110,009 1.73 11.54 74.32
37. North Dakota 672,591 11,853 1.76 4.73 60.22
38. Minnesota 5,303,925 125,145 2.36 7.81 51.25
39. Alaska 710,231 51,875 7.30 13.29 51.92
40. Florida 18,801,310 472,577 2.51 17.63 25.58
41. Georgia 9,687,653 207,489 2.14 18.34 81.71
42. Kentucky 4,339,367 75,208 1.73 7.36 77.20
43. New Hampshire 1,316,470 21,382 1.62 6.53 61.81
44. Michigan 9,883,640 230,319 2.33 -0.55 19.70
45. Massachusetts 6,547,629 172,003 2.63 3.13 17.81
46. Rhode Island 1,052,567 34,787 3.30 0.41 23.14
47. South Carolina 4,625,364 79,935 1.73 15.29 100.09
48. West Virginia 1,852,994 27,142 1.46 2.47 71.92
49. New York 19,378,102 585,849 3.02 2.12 -0.73
50. Puerto Rico 3,725,789 122,246 3.28 -2.17 -22.83
51. Maine 1,328,361 20,941 1.58 4.19 65.58
52. District of Columbia 601,723 17,316 2.88 5.19 71.92
Total (with Puerto Rico) 312,471,327 9,026,389 2.89 9.55 29.23
U.S. Population 308,745,538 9,009,073 2.92 9.71 31.98

Tables compiled by Steven F. Riley. Source: United States Census Bureau

2000 Census Data for “Two or More Races” for States Above
# State Total Population Two or More Races (TOMR) Percentage
1. Louisiana 4,469,976 48,265 1.08
2. Mississippi 2,844,658 20,021 0.74
3. New Jersey 8,414,250 213,755 2.54
4. Virginia 7,078,515 143,069 2.02
5. Maryland 5,296,486 103,587 1.96
6. Arkansas 2,673,400 35,744 1.34
7. Iowa 2,926,324 31,778 1.09
8. Indiana 6,080,485 75,672 1.24
9. Vermont 608,827 7,335 1.20
10. Illinois 12,419,293 235,016 1.89
11. Oklahoma 3,450,654 155,985 4.52
12. South Dakota 754,844 10,156 1.35
13. Texas 20,851,820 514,633 2.47
14. Washington 5,894,121 213,519 3.62
15. Oregon 3,421,399 104,745 3.06
16. Colorado 4,301,261 122,187 2.84
17. Utah 2,233,169 47,195 2.11
18. Nevada 1,998,257 76,428 3.82
19. Missouri 5,595,211 82,061 1.47
20. Alabama 4,447,100 44,179 0.99
21. Hawaii 1,211,537 259,343 21.41
22. Nebraska 1,711,263 23,953 1.40
23. North Carolina 8,049,313 103,260 1.28
24. Delaware 783,600 13,033 1.66
25. Kansas 2,688,418 56,496 2.10
26. Wyoming 493,782 8,883 1.80
27. California 33,871,648 1,607,646 4.75
28. Ohio 11,353,140 157,885 1.39
29. Connecticut 3,405,565 74,848 2.20
30. Pennsylvania 12,281,054 142,224 1.16
31. Wisconsin 5,363,675 66,895 1.25
32. Arizona 5,130,632 146,526 2.86
33. Idaho 1,293,953 25,609 1.98
34. New Mexico 1,819,046 66,327 3.65
35. Montana 902,195 15,730 1.74
36. Tennessee 5,689,283 63,109 1.11
37. North Dakota 642,200 7,398 1.15
38. Minnesota 4,919,479 82,742 1.68
39. Alaska 626,932 34,146 5.45
40. Florida 15,982,378 376,315 2.35
41. Georgia 8,186,453 114,188 1.39
42. Kentucky 4,041,769 42,443 1.05
43. New Hampshire 1,235,786 13,214 1.07
44. Michigan 9,938,444 192,416 1.94
45. Massachusetts 6,349,097 146,005 2.30
46. Rhode Island 1,048,319 28,251 2.69
47. South Carolina 4,012,012 39,950 1.00
48. West Virginia 1,808,344 15,788 0.87
49. New York 18,976,457 590,182 3.11
50. Puerto Rico 3,808,610 158,415 4.16
51. Maine 1,274,923 12,647 0.99
52. District of Columbia 572,059 13,446 2.35
Total (with Puerto Rico) 285,230,516 6,984,643 2.45
  United States 281,421,906 6,826,228 2.43

Tables compiled by Steven F. Riley.  Source: United States Census Bureau

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The Cuneys: A Southern Family in White and Black

Posted in History, Media Archive, Slavery, Texas, United States on 2011-03-06 22:03Z by Steven

The Cuneys: A Southern Family in White and Black

Texas Tech University
August 2000
289 pages

Douglas Hales, Professor of History
Temple College, Temple, Texas

A Dissertation in History Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of Texas Tech University in Partial FulfiUment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

[Note from Steven F. Riley: See the book based on the dissertation titled, A Southern Family in White and Black: The Cuneys of Texas.]

The study begins with Philip Cuney. He had much in common with other paternalistic slaveholders of the South. He believed in the institution of slavery and had grown accustomed to the lifestyle that the peculiar institution afforded him. By Texas standards, his large tracts of land and his large number of slaves made him a wealthy man. He became a respected and prominent leader in Austin County. Cuney also went into Texas politics and gained some success both before and after Texas became a state. Cuney, like many Southern planters, used his powerful position as a slaveholder to begin a sexual relationship with one of his female slaves. His relationship with his slave Adeline Stuart produced eight slave children. Along with his white wife and children, Cuney in effect had two families, one white and one black.



…[Norris Wright] Cuney, as an urban black, seemed far removed from the mass of nineteenth-century black Texans who lived in rural areas pursuing agricultural endeavors in impoverished conditions. In many ways, Cuney represented a new urban black middle class. As a mulatto he represented a minority within a minority. Cuney strongly identified himself as a “Negro.” Many men of mixed heritage within the first generation of black leadership following the Civil War became a black elite both culturally and politically. As the son of an upper-class white man and a mulatto slave, Cuney represented an even more select group of blacks who received an education and freedom from their white fathers. According to Joel Williamson, “It was almost as if mixing of this special sort in late slavery had produced a new breed, preset to move into the vanguard of their people when freedom came.”

White southerners, steeped in the ideology of slavery and black inferiority, and feelings of guilt over miscegenation, refused to see a difference between mulattoes and darker skinned blacks. Most Southern states codified this view into law. Some Antebellum mulattoes, especially house servants and others in close contact with their white fathers, often viewed themselves as distinct from other blacks; but following the Civil War, their interests fused with those of the black community. When freedmen entered the political arena they shared common enemies and objectives that made this fusion permanent. Dark-skinned blacks viewed this relationship as positive. According to Williamson, “they needed verbal and mathematical literacy, economic, political, and social education, and people to teach their teachers.” The mulatto elite along with Northern missionaries provided that help.”…

Read the entire dissertation here.

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Ethnic Identity of Biethnic Mexican American/European Americans Raised in Texas

Posted in Dissertations, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Texas, United States on 2011-03-06 20:53Z by Steven

Ethnic Identity of Biethnic Mexican American/European Americans Raised in Texas

Texas Tech University
May 2005
73 pages

Kristal L. Menchaca

A Thesis in Human Development and Family Studies Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of Texas Tech University in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Science

The primary purpose of this qualitative study was to explore the experiences of Mexican American/European American biethnic individuals raised in Texas. The present study looked at the applicability of Poston’s (1990) five-stage model of biracial identity development to the experiences of 8 Mexican American/European Americans.

Results indicated that Poston’s (1990) model was applicable to this cohort. The respondents gave responses indicating progression through the five stages of Personal Identity, Choice of Group Categorization, Enmeshment/Denial, Appreciation and Integration. These responses were narrations of current involvement or memories of childhood experiences. Also, Poston’s (1990) suggestion that biracial individuals experience confusion and maladjustment because of their ethnicity was also applicable to the biethnic individuals in this study.

Other themes that influenced identity development of the respondents and also considered salient to their experiences were family experiences and what it means to be Mexican American and European American, separately. Respondents were aware of family’s experiences with discrimination. There was an overall positive meaning assigned to being Mexican American and European American, however, it was not as strong for the latter.

Table of Contents

      • Statement of the Problem
      • Mexican Americans in Texas
      • Definition of Terms
      • Identity Development
      • Model of Biracial Identity Development
      • Biracial Identity Development
      • Purpose of Current Study
      • Qualitative Research
      • Phenomenology
      • Participants
      • Measures
      • Ethnicity Survey
      • Autobiographical Interview Probe
      • Procedures
      • Data Analysis
      • Personal Identity
      • Choice of Group Categorization
      • Enmeshment/Denial
      • Appreciation
      • Integration
      • Confusion/Maladjustment
      • Family Experiences
      • What it Means to be Mexican American
      • What it Means to be European American
      • Personal Identity
      • Choice of Group Categorization
      • Enmeshment/Denial
      • Appreciation
      • Integration
      • Confusion/Maladjustment
      • Family Experiences
      • What it Means to be Mexican American
      • What it Means to be European American
      • Conclusions
      • Strengths of Study
      • Limitations of Study
      • Recommendations for future research
    • A. TABLE ONE

Read the entire thesis here.

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University of Texas (Austin) Students Needed for Research About Black-White Multiracial College Students

Posted in Campus Life, New Media, Texas, United States, Wanted/Research Requests/Call for Papers on 2010-10-15 01:45Z by Steven

CeCe Ridder is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Higher Education Administration at The University of Texas at Austin and is recruiting University of Texas at Austin students for a research study about Black-White Multiracial college students.  She is seeking registered students at UT Austin in the third or fourth year of study and have one parent from a Black or African American racial category and one from a White or European racial category.   She would be very interested in speaking to them more about involvement or non-involvement in student organizations and racial identity. This interview is a conversation style, confidential process.

The title of this study is: Multiracial College Students: Exploring Racial Identity Through Student Organizations. The significance of this study is to explore how multiracial students utilize student organizations, and what influence this involvement has on racial and other social identities (gender, age, sexual orientation, etc). The implications for college administrators will be a more in depth understanding of multiracial students, and improve policy, curricula, advising and counseling.

The student participation will include a brief survey, one 60-90 minute in person interview and a 60 minute follow-up interview at a convenient time and location.  If you have any students in mind, can you please e-mail her his/her name and e-mail address and she can send them an e-mail, or feel free to send this request to them with her information, or by phone (512) 789-7410.

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Dreaming with the Ancestors: Black Seminole Women in Texas and Mexico

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Caribbean/Latin America, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Mexico, Monographs, Native Americans/First Nation, Social Science, Texas, United States, Women on 2010-08-09 02:16Z by Steven

Dreaming with the Ancestors: Black Seminole Women in Texas and Mexico

University of Oklahoma Press
December 2010
400 pages
30 B&W Illus., 2 Maps
6.125″ x 9.25″
Hardcover ISBN: 9780806140537

Shirley Boteler Mock, Research Fellow
Mesoamerican Archaeological Research Laboratory, University of Texas, Austin

Explores a unique and eclectic culture rooted in African traditions

Indian freedmen and their descendants have garnered much public and scholarly attention, but women’s roles have largely been absent from that discussion. Now a scholar who gained an insider’s perspective into the Black Seminole community in Texas and Mexico offers a rare and vivid picture of these women and their contributions. In Dreaming with the Ancestors, Shirley Boteler Mock explores the role that Black Seminole women have played in shaping and perpetuating a culture born of African roots and shaped by southeastern Native American and Mexican influences.

Mock reveals a unique maroon culture, forged from an eclectic mixture of religious beliefs and social practices. At its core is an amalgam of African-derived traditions kept alive by women. The author interweaves documentary research with extensive interviews she conducted with leading Black Seminole women to uncover their remarkable history. She tells how these women nourished their families and held fast to their Afro-Seminole language—even as they fled slavery, endured relocation, and eventually sought new lives in new lands. Of key importance were the “warrior women”—keepers of dreams and visions that bring to life age-old African customs.

Featuring more than thirty illustrations and maps, including historic photographs never before published, Dreaming with the Ancestors combines scholarly analysis with human interest to open a new window on both African American and American Indian history and culture.

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The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies [Review by Paul D. Escott]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Mississippi, Texas, United States on 2010-05-22 00:59Z by Steven

The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies [Review by Paul D. Escott]

H-Net Reviews
May, 2010
3 pages

Paul D. Escott, Reynolds Professor of History
Wake Forest University

“Few histories,” writes Victoria Bynum, “are buried faster or deeper than those of political and social dissenters” (p. 148). The Long Shadow of the Civil War disinters a number of remarkable dissenters in North Carolina, Mississippi, and Texas. It introduces the reader to stubbornly independent and courageous Southerners in the North Carolina Piedmont, the Mississippi Piney Woods, and the Big Thicket region around Hardin County, Texas. These individuals and family groups were willing to challenge their society’s coercive social conventions on race, class, and gender. They resisted the established powers when dissent was not only unpopular but dangerous–during the Civil War and the following decades of white supremacy and repressive dominance by the Democratic Party. Their histories remind us of two important truths: that the South was never as monolithic as its rulers and many followers tried to make it; and that human beings, though generally dependent on social approval and acceptance by their peers, are capable of courageous, independent, dissenting lives…

…In nearby Orange County, North Carolina, there was “a lively interracial subculture” whose members “exchanged goods and engaged in gambling, drinking, and sexual and social intercourse” (p. 9). During the war these poor folks, who had come together despite “societal taboos and economic barriers,” supported themselves and aided resistance to the Confederacy by stealing goods and trading with deserters. During Reconstruction elite white men, who felt that their political and economic dominance was threatened along with their power over their wives and households, turned to violence to reestablish control. Yet interracial family groups among the poor challenged their mistreatment and contributed to “a fragile biracial political coalition” (pp. 55-56) that made the Republican Party dominant before relentless attacks from the Ku Klux Klan nullified the people’s will…

…Professor Bynum closes her book with a chapter on the interracial offspring of Newt and Rachel Knight. Called “white Negroes” or “Knight’s Negroes” by their neighbors, these individuals continued to exhibit an independent spirit as they dealt with their society and with each other. They chose to identify themselves in a variety of ways; different members of the family adopted different approaches to life. Some passed as white, others affirmed their African American identity, and still others saw themselves as people of color but kept a distance from those whom society defined as Negroes. Within the family group there were many independent spirits. One woman, the ascetic Anna Knight, forged a long and energetic career as an educator and Seventh-Day Adventist missionary…

Read the entire review here.

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Shades of Gray: The Life and Times of a Free Family of Color in Antebellum Texas

Posted in History, Law, New Media, Papers/Presentations, Slavery, Texas, United States on 2010-03-11 04:47Z by Steven

Shades of Gray: The Life and Times of a Free Family of Color in Antebellum Texas

Jason A. Gillmer, Professor of Law
Texas Wesleyan University School of Law

64 pages

The history of race and slavery is often told from the perspective of either the oppressors or the oppressed. This Article takes a different tact, unpacking the rich and textured story of the Ashworths, an obscure yet prosperous free family of color who came to Texas beginning in the early 1830s. It is undoubtedly an unusual story; indeed in the history of the time there are surely more prominent names and more famous events. Yet their story reveals a tantalizing world in which–despite legal rules and conventional thinking – life was not so black and white. Drawing on local records rather than canonical cases, and listening to the voices from the community rather than the legislatures, this Article emphasizes the importance of looking to the margins of society to demonstrate how racial relations and ideological notions in the antebellum South were far more intricate than we had previously imagined. The Ashworths never took a stand against slavery; to the contrary, they amassed a fortune on its back. But their racial identity also created complications and fissures in the social order, and their story ultimately tells us as much about them as it does about the times in which they lived.

Read the entire article here.

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The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies

Posted in Books, History, Media Archive, Mississippi, Monographs, Slavery, Texas, United States on 2010-02-24 02:06Z by Steven

The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies

University of North Carolina Press
April 2010
240 pp.
6.125 x 9.25, 9 illus.
1 map, notes, bibl., index
Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8078-3381-0
Large Print ISBN: 978-0-8078-7909-2

Victoria E. Bynum, Emeritus Professor of History
Texas State University, San Marcos

In The Long Shadow of the Civil War, Victoria Bynum relates uncommon narratives about common Southern folks who fought not with the Confederacy, but against it. Focusing on regions in three Southern states–North Carolina, Mississippi, and TexasBynum introduces Unionist supporters, guerrilla soldiers, defiant women, socialists, populists, free blacks, and large interracial kin groups that belie stereotypes of the South and of Southerners as uniformly supportive of the Confederate cause.

Examining regions within the South where the inner civil wars of deadly physical conflict and intense political debate continued well into the era of Reconstruction and beyond, Bynum explores three central questions. How prevalent was support for the Union among ordinary Southerners during the Civil War? How did Southern Unionists and freed people experience both the Union’s victory and the emancipation of slaves during and after Reconstruction? And what were the legacies of the Civil War–and Reconstruction–for relations among classes and races and between the sexes, both then and now?

Centered on the concepts of place, family, and community, Bynum’s insightful and carefully documented work effectively counters the idea of a unified South caught in the grip of the Lost Cause.

Visit Dr. Bynum’s blog Renegade South here.

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A Place to Be Someone: Growing Up with Charles Gordone

Posted in Biography, Books, Media Archive, Monographs, Texas, United States on 2009-11-20 03:24Z by Steven

A Place to Be Someone: Growing Up with Charles Gordone

Texas Tech University Press
September 2008
272 pages
35 B/W photos
Cloth ISBN: 978-0-89672-635-2

Shirley Gordon Jackson

with introduction by

Maceo C. Dailey, Jr., Professor of African American Studies
University of Texas El Paso

The enlightening memoir of one  multiethnic family’s struggles and triumphs.

Before playwright Charles Gordone (1925–1995) became a Texan, he became the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, for No Place to Be Somebody, in 1970. His search for a home in the West led him in 1987 to Texas A&M University, where he taught playwriting for the last nine years of his life, and to an influential role in the Cowboy Renaissance of the 1990s. Much as Mary Austin saw the West as a place without gender, Gordone regarded Texas as a place without race, where the need for neighborly connections to survive outweighed discriminatory urges.

A Place to Be Someone covers the years prior to this geographical and psychological journey, the childhood and youth that deeply informed Gordone’s pilgrimage. Growing up in Elkhart, Indiana, a “free” northern town, Charles Gordon and his family never fit completely into commonly understood racial categories. Elkhart and the world labeled them “black,” ignoring the rest of their multiracial and multiethnic heritage. Their familial experiences shaped not only their identities but also their perceptions.

For Gordone, childhood was the beginning of a lifelong battle against labels, and this memoir shows many of the reasons why. Written by his younger sister Shirley, who recognized that her brother had spent his whole life coming “home” to Texas, this revealing family memoir will be welcomed by Gordone scholars and those in African American drama and literature, American studies, women’s studies, and history and by any reader young or old who seeks to understand the forces and consequences of discrimination and mental and physical abuse. The sole surviving sibling, Shirley Gordon Jackson tells this story with the intimacy and immediacy it demands.

Born in 1929 and raised in Elkhart, Indiana, Shirley Gordon Jackson is the fourth of five siblings. Upon graduation from Elkhart Senior High School, Jackson completed her education at Century College of Medical Technology in Chicago, Illinois, on a scholarship. An accomplished pianist and organist, she is also an artist, poet, and writer. After residing in California for some forty-five years, she now calls North Texas home.

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