- Gender, Violence, and Citizenship in the Post-Civil War South
Over a decade ago, the historian Laura F. Edwards's pioneering work entitled Gendered Strife and Confusion: The Political Culture of Reconstruction, shifted the historiographical focus of the post-Civil War period to the household. Mining the legal and political records, newspapers, and family papers of Granville County, North Carolina, Edwards argued that the race to redraw boundaries around white southern governance was founded on family ties and domestic relations. White men, she contended, used property ownership to propel themselves toward a self-made model of masculinity defined by hard work, earned wealth, and individual achievement, while white women aspired to a domestic ideal to distinguish themselves from African American and poor white women. "Political and civil rights," asserted Edwards, "still hinged on how households were defined, who qualified as household heads, and what rights they and their dependents could exercise."1
Edwards forced a shift in our understanding of the political importance of gender and the postwar household, creating a legacy that is reflected in [End Page 172] current scholarship by Hannah Rosen, Micki McElya, Kimberley Wallace Sanders, and the essay collection edited by Larry Eugene Rivers and Canter Brown Jr. Hannah Rosen's Terror in the Heart of Freedom examines how gender informed the white South's struggle to reclaim racial exclusivity over citizenship and suffrage. Drawing upon case studies including the Memphis Riot, the Arkansas constitutional convention, and the evolution of the Ku Klux Klan, Rosen argues that both the representation of and violence toward African Americans—and in particular, the rape of African American women by white men—sought to destabilize freedpeople's claims to suffrage and a voice in public affairs. Micki McElya's Clinging to Mammy and Kimberly Wallace-Sanders's Mammy both cast a broad interdisciplinary gaze over the evolution of the mammy and Aunt Jemima figures from the 1820s to the 1930s. McElya selects historical snapshots—including the Marjorie Delbridge custody case and the United Daughters of the Confederacy's (UDC) campaign to erect a national mammy monument—to explore white America's reworking of the mammy figure in an effort to understand, and to master, the shifting economic, social, and racial tensions of the period. Wallace-Sanders similarly provides a synthesis of mammy iconography in literature, art, and popular culture; embracing both historical and contemporary readings to understand the complexity of this figure's powerful presence in the American consciousness. Rivers and Brown Jr.'s The Varieties of Women's Experiences provides a biographical overlay to these other more theoretical studies on representation. Offering readers fourteen essays on a diverse group of women, Rivers and Brown Jr. highlight the individual's negotiation of the historical currents and ideologies that shaped the postwar South; where daily struggles and achievements charted a course of generational change. These books explore different times and events, and adopt contrasting methodological approaches, but they come together under Edwards's original premise: to understand how gender informed the strife, confusion, and violence of the post-Civil War period in the American South.
Violence and Virtue
Hannah Rosen's Terror in the Heart of Freedom is, in many ways, a companion piece to Gendered Strife and Confusion. Drawing upon Edwards's research on the postwar household, Rosen's compelling work explores the ways in which white southerners used sexual...