Shrill Hurrahs: Women, Gender, and Racial Violence in South Carolina, 1865-1900

Shrill Hurrahs: Women, Gender, and Racial Violence in South Carolina, 1865-1900

Shrill Hurrahs: Women, Gender, and Racial Violence in South Carolina, 1865-1900

Shrill Hurrahs: Women, Gender, and Racial Violence in South Carolina, 1865-1900

Synopsis

In From Eager Lips Came Shrill Hurrahs, Kate F. C. Gillin presents a new perspective on gender roles and racial violence in South Carolina during Reconstruction and the decades after the 1876 election of Wade Hampton as governor. In the aftermath of the Civil War, southerners struggled to either adapt or resist changes to their way of life. Gillin accurately perceives racial violence as an attempt by white southern men to reassert their masculinity, weakened by the war and emancipation, and as an attempt by white southern women to preserve their antebellum privileges.
As she reevaluates relationships between genders, Gillin also explores relations within the female gender. She has demonstrated that white women often exacerbated racial and gender violence alongside men, even when other white women were victims of that violence. Through the nineteenth century, few bridges of sisterhood were built between black and white women. Black women asserted their rights as mothers, wives, and independent free women in the postwar years, while white women often opposed these assertions of black female autonomy. Ironically even black women participated in acts of intimidation and racial violence in an attempt to safeguard their rights. In the turmoil of an era that extinguished slavery and redefined black citizenship, race, not gender, often determined the relationships that black and white women displayed in the defeated South.
By canvassing and documenting numerous incidents of racial violence, from lynching of black men to assaults on white women, Gillin proposes a new view of postwar South Carolina. Tensions grew over controversies including the struggle for land and labor, black politicization, the creation of the Ku Klux Klan, the election of 1876, and the rise of lynching. Gillin addresses these issues and more as she focusses on black women's asserted independence and white women's role in racial violence. Despite the white women's reactionary activism, the powerful presence of black women and their bravery in the face of white violence reshaped southern gender roles forever.

Excerpt

In January 1871 members of the York County, South Carolina, Klan attacked the home of a local white woman named Skates. After a scuffle they pinned her to the ground, opened her upended legs, and poured a steaming brew of tar and lime into her vagina. They then spread the excess over her body and threatened to return if she did not leave the area within three days. Moments earlier Skates had assisted three black men who were themselves the targets of the Klan’s violent predilections. the Klan found the men hiding under Skates’s floorboards, dragged them from the house, and whipped them until the victims were able to escape. in their frenzy—and in response to her actions—the Klansmen then turned their attention to Skates. the penalty they chose for her was startling, not merely because it was cruel and violent, but because of its deeply gendered nature. They simply whipped the men, or at least that is all they were able to do before the men broke free. Skates’s “punishment” was overtly sexual and played on her biological differences. It also far exceeded a whipping in terms of its brutality, and it was quite clearly premeditated since the Klan had brought the lime and tar with them. in an era of dramatic social, political, and economic upheaval, Skates was exempt from the protections promised to certain other southern women. Indeed many women in the South after the Civil War—white and black—found not only that their sex was no shield against the rampant violence of an undeclared racial war, but also that gender and sexuality were often the reasons for the violence. These women, however, were also empowered by this unstable period in southern history. Some found strength in their symbolic value; others chose to use their sex as a door to the wider world; still others embraced the brutality characteristic of the late-nineteenth-century South because it suited their . . .

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