Freedom's Women (Black Women And Families In Civil War Era Mississippi)

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Freedom's Women (Black Women and Families in Civil War Era Mississippi)


Noralee Frankel's account of the experiences of African American African American Multi-culture A person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa. 


Freedom's Women examines African American women's experiences during the Civil War and early Reconstruction years in Mississippi. Exploring issues of family and work, the author shows how African American women's attempts to achieve more control over their lives shaped their attitudes toward work, marriage, family, and community.

Frankel's scholarship in this carefully researched and clearly written study is impressive. Her examination of Civil War widows' pension records and other primary sources reveals a great deal about the importance of Mississippi slave families and how emancipation strengthened them. Although women gained fewer legal rights than men from Reconstruction, they obtained much that had been denied them during slavery. They shared family authority and economic responsibility so much that Frankel concludes the free African American family was neither patriarchal nor matriarchal, but combinations of both. Freedwomen did not rely solely on legal definitions of marriage but developed codes of morality based on community standards. Their community tolerated intimate relationships outside of legal marriages and recognized terminations of relationships without legal divorce. Extended kin were considered members of the family, and family responsibilities included support of orphans, unmarried pregnant daughters, and handicapped children.Frankel finds both change and continuity in the lives she chronicles. Although she stresses black women's struggle for autonomy and privacy in work, child rearing, and intimate relations with men, she also recognizes the constraints imposed by race, poverty, and lack of political power. White men and women continued to exercise inordinate influence over the activities and choices of freedpeople.

Still, if few black women achieved the economic security they hoped for, most did manage to reduce the amount of time they worked for whites. Black women influenced the shift of their family's labor from slavery to sharecropping sharecropping, system of farm tenancy once common in some parts of the United States. In the United States the institution arose at the end of the Civil War out of the plantation system. Many planters had ample land but little money for wages. , and in so doing they developed independent views of legal and informal marriages. Moreover, Frankel argues persuasively that, with emancipation, the African American family emerged as a male-headed institution rather than a genuinely patriarchal one.The topical organization of Freedom's Women produces some repetition--Frankel defines "took-ups" (informal marriages) and "quitting" (non-legal divorce) several times--that robs the book of narrative drive.

From her days as a slave in Bolivar County through the wartime contraband camps to freedom, with special attention to her marriages, love affairs, children, and friends. Frankel thus reminds her readers of the real people who shaped and were shaped by the events of these years.

Freedom's Women closes on an appropriately muted note. The successes of African American women (and men) between 1862 and 1870 were, Frankel acknowledges, "incomplete”. That certainly cannot be said of Frankel's ...
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