Freedom's paradox : negotiating race and class in Jim Crow Texas




Lee, Nedra K

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This dissertation focuses on black Texans and the entanglement of race and class during the Reconstruction and Jim Crow periods. I explore the role that landownership played in freedmen’s aspirations for citizenship and autonomy within the racially hostile South. Using the Ransom and Sarah William Farmstead, a historic freedmen’s site in Manchaca, Travis County, Texas, I posit that formerly enslaved blacks prioritized landownership not only to escape the sharecropping system but because property held significant symbolic capital. For blacks more than any other tangible possession, real estate signified a form of affluence that deeply influenced the social relations that black landowners had with others, regardless of race. Yet, while it made possible a certain level of socioeconomic and spatial mobility, black landowners simultaneously engendered suspicion and anger among whites. Using a critical race framework, I position black landowners as precariously perched between whites and landless blacks, as intermediaries who constantly (and carefully) had to negotiate a highly racialized, patriarchal, and class-based social world. Using ceramics, space and architecture, I present the realities of a more ambiguous and heterogeneous blackness where the Williamses variously accommodated and resisted dominant norms, and re-envisioned their place in a majority-white farming enclave. This dissertation complicates existing scholarship that either tends to flatten black experiences following emancipation by focusing on sharecropping, or to celebrate black landowners in Texas without seriously considering how racial hegemony still circumscribed their lives.




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