"An exciting, important book . . . a significant contribution that recasts our understanding of the terrain of southern history."--Laura E. Edwards, Duke University
In May 1862, hundreds of African-Americans freed themselves in the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta and in the process destroyed the South's fundamental structure of power--the plantation household. Yet at the moment of freedom, southerners did not discard what they knew. Instead, blacks and whites, men and women constructed competing visions of freedom based on their particular understanding of household authority. Gendered Freedoms explores this first generation of freedom and presents an intimate history of the political consciousness of the franchised and disenfranchised during the Civil War and Reconstruction in the Mississippi Delta.
Gendered Freedoms is the first book to analyze black and white southerners' subjective understandings of the household, challenging us to reexamine the relationship between identity and political consciousness. Where others emphasize the household principally as a structure based on an ideology of power, Bercaw demonstrates how deeply household hierarchies permeated southerners' most personal sense of themselves, shaping their perceptions of their autonomy, rights, duties, and obligations to one another. The author highlights the importance of African-American and white women and integrates them into her analysis to reveal political consciousness in both its public and its private dimensions. The first to uncover these largely unheard-of voices of the region, the author investigates the conservative and radical traditions embodied in southern dissent.
In order to capture the personal perspectives of individual southerners, the author mines a variety of archival collections from the Freedmen's Bureau and U.S. Army records. These sources--governors' papers, letters, and diaries, as well as local newspapers, which record the public and private responses of southern white men and women to war and emancipation--provide rare insight into how black men and women defined and contested the meaning of freedom within their households and communities. The end product is an intimate window into the lives of individuals in the Delta from 1861 to 1875, as they explored the nature of political rights from their vantage points of whiteness and blackness, manhood and womanhood, freedom and dependency.
Nancy Bercaw is professor of history at the University of Mississippi.
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Choice Outstanding Academic Title - 2003
" The transition from slavery to freedom has received attention from historians for some time. Seldom, however, have readers and scholars been treated to as profound an analysis of the issues as they are in this work." ; " Makes an important contribution to our understanding of the postwarSouth." ; "Essential"
"Bercaw does the difficult work of teasing out the cross- cutting notions of household and authority and their relation to labor and citizenship. As social history, Gendered Freedoms shows households to be sites of contestation between classes, races, and genders. As intellectual history, it demonstrates the centrality and significance of political notions of household constructed and reconstructed during this tempestuous time."
--North Carolina Historical review
"Unlike some efforts, which practice a kind of recipe methodology (Take familiar histories, add gender, and shake), Gendered Freedoms recasts our understanding of Southern history. By placing competing notions of the ideal household at the center of her account, Bercaw succeeds in introducing a compelling interpretation of the rapid changes that swept through the Delta."
--The Southern Register
"…an intriguing study of plantation society in the Yazoo-Mississippe Delta as it moved beyond slavery into complex negotiations over the meaning of freedom for each segment of society."
"Gendered Freedoms should entice many historians to think more carefully about the politics of household in other communities and at other times."
--The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
"Bercaw asks precisely the right questions, linking the domestic orders of bondage to the political debates of freedom."
--The Journal of American History
"Essential reading for anyone working on the social history of the Civil War, the politics of the household, or the meaning of emancipation."
"Bercaw . . . shines new light on the complexity of gender roles and identities during the Reconstruction era while also demonstrating how powerfully the discourse and practice of the household framed postemancipation contests over labor relations and political rights."
--Journal of Southern History