>>But on the other hand, it is also fair to say, as I mentioned last time, that men and women experienced this transition very differently, because the freed people moved into a free society in which the status of women was shaped by this legal doctrine of coverture, which I mentioned long ago. Coverture, the common law which states that, basically, a woman is effectively the property of her husband, or that she has no legal identity separate from that of her father or husband. So the husband is, legally speaking, the head of the family; the husband signs contracts for the family; a married woman cannot earn wages on her own, or has no legal right to the wages she may earn on her own. And this view was also strongly reinforced by black ministers, who often held an extremely patriarchal view of what the family ought to be, and indeed by the Freedmen’s Bureau and Northerners, because part of the abolitionist critique had been that slavery had unnaturally deprived men, black men, of their natural role as head of the family. And part of freedom was reconstituting the family in this way so that women would be subordinate and men would be the head of the family. So there’s a lot of tension. The Freedmen’s Bureau shows not only tremendous efforts to reunite families, but tensions within families, as men try to reassert, or to assert for the first time, this patriarchal authority which was denied to them under slavery. Moreover, men had served in the army, of course; women had not. Men will soon get the right to vote; women will not. So that the society itself creates a very strong hierarchy between men and women, which black families become part of just like any other families. This is the society, the world they are living in. Interestingly, even though it was not legal, the Freedman’s Savings Bank, which we’ll talk about, a bank set up by the government to encourage thrift among the former slaves: one of our excellent graduate students, Nick Osborne is defending a dissertation soon about banking in the 19th century, and he has a chapter… He found out the Freedman’s Savings Bank had many bank accounts by married women. Black women. They were not supposed to have their own separate bank accounts, according to the law, but the Freedman’s Savings said, hey, anyone who wants to put money in here, that’s good, they’re saving, we’re not going to bother them, that they’re learning the virtue of thrift. So obviously, some of these women wanted to assert a kind of personal economic independence which was unusual, let us say, in the 19th century. And then there were other questions, you get a little hint of this in that letter by Jourdan Anderson in the Gienapp, where he talks about, you know, coming back to the old plantation, he says, well what about, how are you going to treat my daughters? How are you going to treat my daughters? Because I remember what happened to women under slavery. He’s talking about rape, you know, of black women by owners. And I don’t want that to happen anymore, you know? In other words, black — So the question of the transition. So many black women… For example, Tera Hunter, a scholar who has written about domestic — people who worked in the households, domestic workers in Atlanta after the war, makes the interesting point that white domestic workers usually lived in the home of the owner, of the owner’s family. Black women did not want to live in the home. They would commute, as it were. They would live with their husband or somewhere else. Why? Why didn’t they want to live in the home? Because they didn’t want to be subject to the sexual abuse by white men which was so common under slavery, and they thought if they were under the same roof, they would be subject to it again. So slavery shapes gender relations, gender assumptions, in all sorts of way. Moreover, the reconstitution of black families contributed strongly to what people at the time, and then economists, called “the labor shortage,” labor shortage after slavery. There was a labor shortage in the South. Planters continually complained, there was a shortage of labor. Why? Well, one, slaves, former slaves didn’t want to work as if they were slaves. They weren’t going to work from sunup to sundown. They weren’t going to work on all the days of the week. They reduced their hours of labor, because they didn’t want to work like slaves anymore, so that creates a labor shortage. They wouldn’t let their children go out in the fields anymore, especially if there were schools around. That reduces the amount of labor. And particularly, black women tried, not always successfully, to avoid working in the fields. You know, in the 19th century there was this imagery, this ideology, of separate spheres (didn’t always really describe reality), but it didn’t apply to blacks. White women were not supposed to work outside the home. True femininity was being domestic and working in the home. Black women were supposed to work outside the home, this didn’t apply to them. Black women worked in the fields under slavery. There was no gender distinction there under slavery. Once slavery ends, many black women withdrew. This is what we call the withdrawal of black women from field labor. Why? If you read the literature, you find, people find it difficult to talk about. A lot of literature says, well, their husbands forced them. I don’t think there’s a lot of evidence of that. I think a lot of these women didn’t want to work in the fields anymore. Part of freedom was being able to devote your time to your family, in a way that you were unable to do — maybe have a garden or something outside your little home, deal with your children, deal with your household — in a way you could not do effectively under slavery. But whatever the reason, the withdrawal of black women from field labor reduces the labor. That also creates a labor shortage, or helps to create it, because there’s a lot less people out there now available to work. So all of this is part of the, this whole question of the complicated transition from slavery to freedom. This kind of assertiveness that I pointed out, in a modest way, in that Winslow Homer painting, was very visible on the streets in 1865. One white resident of Charleston wrote, “It is impossible to describe,” this is soon after the Union army took over Charleston, “It is impossible to describe the condition of this city. It is so unlike anything we can imagine. Negros shoving white people off the walk. Negro women dress in the most outre style, all with veils and parasols.” In other words, they’re dressing in a way that they could not. There were laws under slavery about what you could wear as a slave, and now they’re flaunting some, you know, outre style, just as an affirmation of the fact that they are no longer slaves. Black soldiers intentionally broke social barriers: they boarded street cars that were supposedly only reserved for whites; they entered restaurants and demanded to be served; they intervened to rescue black people who had been arrested. The presence of black soldiers in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War was a constant source of complaint by Southern whites to President Andrew Johnson. And one of Johnson’s early moves (we’ll talk about what he does, really, next week) was to remove black soldiers from the South. By the end of 1865, most of the black units are out of the South. They’re mostly sent out to the West to fight in the Indian Wars. So my point is, it’s very important to recognize the significance of what appear to be little things. Little things. And in fact, in the Freedmen’s Bureau records, you get this very odd picture of violence sprouting over things that are almost insignificant. Somebody doesn’t take his hat off to someone in the street and all of a sudden people are shooting each other. Someone doesn’t step out of the sidewalk to let a white person pass and suddenly a mob attacks him. Race riots flare up over tiny, little personal incidents. To whites, this is insolence of blacks. This shows that they don’t understand, you know, race relations anymore. To blacks, they’re assertions of freedom. What I call this is the politicization of everyday life. All sorts of personal, day-to-day encounters become imbued with political meaning. Political, again, in that broad sense. They are about power; they’re about freedom; they’re about authority. And the struggle over what freedom is is going on at every level, in other words, from day-to-day encounters to big, congressional debates, which we’ll talk about next time.