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Terror in the Heart of Freedom: Citizenship, Sexual Violence, and the Meaning of Race in the Post Emancipation South

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The meaning of race in the antebellum southern United States was anchored in the racial exclusivity of slavery (coded as black) and full citizenship (coded as white as well as male). These traditional definitions of race were radically disrupted after emancipation, when citizenship was granted to all persons born in the United States and suffrage was extended to all men. H The meaning of race in the antebellum southern United States was anchored in the racial exclusivity of slavery (coded as black) and full citizenship (coded as white as well as male). These traditional definitions of race were radically disrupted after emancipation, when citizenship was granted to all persons born in the United States and suffrage was extended to all men. Hannah Rosen persuasively argues that in this critical moment of Reconstruction, contests over the future meaning of race were often fought on the terrain of gender. Sexual violence--specifically, white-on-black rape--emerged as a critical arena in postemancipation struggles over African American citizenship. Analyzing the testimony of rape survivors, Rosen finds that white men often staged elaborate attacks meant to enact prior racial hierarchy. Through their testimony, black women defiantly rejected such hierarchy and claimed their new and equal rights. Rosen explains how heated debates over interracial marriage were also attempts by whites to undermine African American men's demands for suffrage and a voice in public affairs. By connecting histories of rape and discourses of social equality with struggles over citizenship, Rosen shows how gendered violence and gendered rhetorics of race together produced a climate of terror for black men and women seeking to exercise their new rights as citizens. Linking political events at the city, state, and regional levels, Rosen places gender and sexual violence at the heart of understanding the reconsolidation of race and racism in the postemancipation United States.


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The meaning of race in the antebellum southern United States was anchored in the racial exclusivity of slavery (coded as black) and full citizenship (coded as white as well as male). These traditional definitions of race were radically disrupted after emancipation, when citizenship was granted to all persons born in the United States and suffrage was extended to all men. H The meaning of race in the antebellum southern United States was anchored in the racial exclusivity of slavery (coded as black) and full citizenship (coded as white as well as male). These traditional definitions of race were radically disrupted after emancipation, when citizenship was granted to all persons born in the United States and suffrage was extended to all men. Hannah Rosen persuasively argues that in this critical moment of Reconstruction, contests over the future meaning of race were often fought on the terrain of gender. Sexual violence--specifically, white-on-black rape--emerged as a critical arena in postemancipation struggles over African American citizenship. Analyzing the testimony of rape survivors, Rosen finds that white men often staged elaborate attacks meant to enact prior racial hierarchy. Through their testimony, black women defiantly rejected such hierarchy and claimed their new and equal rights. Rosen explains how heated debates over interracial marriage were also attempts by whites to undermine African American men's demands for suffrage and a voice in public affairs. By connecting histories of rape and discourses of social equality with struggles over citizenship, Rosen shows how gendered violence and gendered rhetorics of race together produced a climate of terror for black men and women seeking to exercise their new rights as citizens. Linking political events at the city, state, and regional levels, Rosen places gender and sexual violence at the heart of understanding the reconsolidation of race and racism in the postemancipation United States.

30 review for Terror in the Heart of Freedom: Citizenship, Sexual Violence, and the Meaning of Race in the Post Emancipation South

  1. 5 out of 5

    Stacy

    The research is very well done. The organization is distracting. Perhaps the uncomfortable topic of rape is also why I didn’t rate it so high. It is also such a brief period that the federal government really took and interest in black women’s testimony. Many of the smaller arguments seem a stretch. Perhaps it also may be my bias and lack of huge interest in gender studies which isn’t fair. Will be interested to look at other similar topics to see how it compares.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Nick Mariner

    This book has exactly what a great history text needs: fantastic, clear writing, exhaustive research, and most importantly, a critical new frame on the topic. Hannah Rosen's book brings a new perspective on the history of Reconstruction in thinking about sexual violence and citizenship. I HIGHLY recommend this book for a graduate-level history class and anyone looking to think differently about the years immediately following the Civil War in the South. This book has exactly what a great history text needs: fantastic, clear writing, exhaustive research, and most importantly, a critical new frame on the topic. Hannah Rosen's book brings a new perspective on the history of Reconstruction in thinking about sexual violence and citizenship. I HIGHLY recommend this book for a graduate-level history class and anyone looking to think differently about the years immediately following the Civil War in the South.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Patricia Joynton

    This was a remarkable book. My first thought was how hard Reconstruction was for all involved. Freedom did not end problems. What was freedom and how could those receiving it use it. Also, sad to see the number of laws passed to halt equality meant freedom was not without its drawbacks. My heart went out to black women--the stars. In the future when someone offers me something (say love) I am going to ask what their definition of it is!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    Hannah Rosen's Terror in the Heart of Freedom is an essential historical document. This text is a detailed analysis of the connection between gendered rhetoric, sexual violence, and the oppression and resistance of freed people during the reconstruction era. Rosen demonstrates a thorough understanding of gender, race, and power dynamics and how these issues are employed through politics on different levels. Terror in the Heart of Freedom is not light reading. The subject matter is intense and oft Hannah Rosen's Terror in the Heart of Freedom is an essential historical document. This text is a detailed analysis of the connection between gendered rhetoric, sexual violence, and the oppression and resistance of freed people during the reconstruction era. Rosen demonstrates a thorough understanding of gender, race, and power dynamics and how these issues are employed through politics on different levels. Terror in the Heart of Freedom is not light reading. The subject matter is intense and often disturbing considering the brutal gendered and racial violence that occurred during the reconstruction in the United States. Rosen builds a virtual theatre for these events, illustrating the antebellum attitudes of many whites, the social and political situation of southern urban areas after the civil war, and the radical reclamation of public space by Black citizens at this time. The extreme discomfort that White people felt during this Black reclamation of space was palpable, and the violence that ensued was a reassertion of power on the part of White men. Hannah Rosen extrapolates on these events, displaying White men's recreation of a racist rhetoric that was used to oppress the newly freed population, and explores how much of this rhetoric was, in fact, based in gender. One of the most poignant points that Hannah Rosen makes is in noting the repercussions for Black women speaking out about the sexual violence they experienced during this turbulent time. Rosen extrapolates on this further, explaining that these women were not only articulating their experiences, but were reframing the common narratives of Black women's sexuality, while also claiming their space as women and citizens. Indeed, as Rosen points out, in this process, they also challenged the conventional way for women to handle sexual assault. Aside from the implications of sexual assault during the reconstruction, Hannah Rosen very concisely handles the intricacies of federal versus local authority at this time. This is no easy task, as the actual written law, and the de facto law of the time were often so contradictory. Rosen leads the reader through these complications rather gracefully, not allowing them to snag on the details. The grit of policy is extremely relevant here, and aids in explaining the dynamics of this very specific social atmosphere. At 384 pages, Terror in the Heart of Freedom has over 100 pages of notes and footnotes. The text stands out as a meticulously-researched, well-written, and, most of all, vital historical document. Hannah Rosen has written a detailed analysis of the convoluted relationships between power, rhetoric, race, and gender during what could have been a period of victory for equality in this country. Consider it necessary for your history reading list. -- Kate Wadkins (for Feminist Review)

  5. 5 out of 5

    Tom Darrow

    This book explores the role that sexual violence and gendered language had on a very important, yet relatively unstudied, period in US history - that of Reconstruction. While many people are familiar with the general political history of Reconstruction (Radical Republicans taking over, Johnson being impeached, Southern Democrats gradually reestablishing control, etc), this book explores the violent and gendered causes of these events. Rosen breaks the book up into three sections. The first is a m This book explores the role that sexual violence and gendered language had on a very important, yet relatively unstudied, period in US history - that of Reconstruction. While many people are familiar with the general political history of Reconstruction (Radical Republicans taking over, Johnson being impeached, Southern Democrats gradually reestablishing control, etc), this book explores the violent and gendered causes of these events. Rosen breaks the book up into three sections. The first is a microhistory of the Memphis Race Riot of 1866. The draws on the testimony of freedwomen who were raped and uses historical, anthropological and sociological methodology to break down how southern white males were using sexual violence and gendered language to try to enforce their superiority over the blacks who had just gained their freedom. In the second section, Rosen observes the same trends as Arkansas tried to write a new constitution in 1867-68. Conservative whites tried to insert an amendment prohibiting biracial marriage. Rosen argues that the whites did this not so much because they feared "brutish" black men from sleeping with their daughters but because they wanted to enforce the purity of races so discrimination would be easier to enforce. The final section is a broader history of violence throughout the South. She looks at the establishment and methodology of the KKK and other "night riders". While the information here is good, after 150 pages of her elaborating on her points in previous chapters, this section kind of beats her points to death. Overall, however, this book is very well done. She draws upon a wide variety of sources and uses some of them in great detail. The freedwomen's testimony before government tribunals are particularly useful because they are among the first times black women were given agency in the political process. Additionally, her use of newspaper quotes is helpful in showing the attitudes of southern whites towards racial issues. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Reconstruction, gender studies or the Civil Rights movement.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Dan Gorman

    Powerful and deeply sad history. White supremacists in the South used rape as a political weapon to silence black women, as well as white women who worked with Union soldiers or black Americans during Reconstruction. Confederate sympathizers in Arkansas also used rape rhetoric to goad whites into restricting African American political rights; Confederate-sympathizing newspapers claimed that emancipated blacks would rape the Southern white culture. As Reconstruction continued, white paramilitary Powerful and deeply sad history. White supremacists in the South used rape as a political weapon to silence black women, as well as white women who worked with Union soldiers or black Americans during Reconstruction. Confederate sympathizers in Arkansas also used rape rhetoric to goad whites into restricting African American political rights; Confederate-sympathizing newspapers claimed that emancipated blacks would rape the Southern white culture. As Reconstruction continued, white paramilitary bands used rape as a primary tactic to instill fear into the free black population. Yet there was resistance; Rosen points to forty-five black women who survived their attacks and testified before Congressional committees about their experiences. The written testimony of these forty-five women are a representative sample of black women's resilience in the face of sexual assault, and how African Americans during Reconstruction turned to the federal government to reinforce their status as citizens. The middle portion of the book, on rape rhetoric in white newspapers and the Arkansas state constitutional convention of 1868, is a bit out of sync with the larger study of sexual violence, but it adds contextual information about how white supremacists justified both Jim Crow and rape. Some of Rosen's cultural theory arguments get a bit tricky; it strikes me as unlikely that Klansmen thought about their attacks as performances. But Rosen's primary source research is tremendous, and the themes of banal white evil & consistent black resistance are powerful. Keep the tissues handy for this book.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Annie

  8. 4 out of 5

    Monique Sampson

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sophia

  10. 5 out of 5

    Riva Cullinan

  11. 4 out of 5

    Elly

  12. 4 out of 5

    Cayla

  13. 4 out of 5

    James Hill Welborn III

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Tickle

  15. 4 out of 5

    Gavin Glider

  16. 5 out of 5

    Connie

  17. 4 out of 5

    Signe

  18. 5 out of 5

    Laurel Overstreet

  19. 5 out of 5

    Cassandra

  20. 5 out of 5

    Holly Genovese

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Rodriguez

  22. 5 out of 5

    Peter

  23. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

  24. 4 out of 5

    Laura Rose

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sara

  26. 4 out of 5

    Marya

  27. 4 out of 5

    Katie

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kidada

  29. 4 out of 5

    Bren

  30. 5 out of 5

    Cassie Sadilek

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