Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Gender and the Jubilee: Black Freedom and the Reconstruction of Citizenship in Civil War Missouri

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Gender and the Jubilee: Black Freedom and the Reconstruction of Citizenship in Civil War Missouri

Article excerpt

Gender and the Jubilee: Black Freedom and the Reconstruction of Citizenship in Civil War Missouri. By Sharon Romeo. Studies in the Legal History of the South. (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2016. Pp. xviii, 192. $59.95, ISBN 978-0-8203-4801-8.)

Gender and the Jubilee: Black Freedom and the Reconstruction of Citizenship in Civil War Missouri is an important work for understanding the transition from slavery to freedom as a process in which enslaved people legally, socially, politically, and economically reclaimed their bodies. While other scholars have previously explored this process, Sharon Romeo explores its gendered nature by focusing on black women who employed the military to assert their notions of freedom, citizenship, and nonslave identity in Missouri. Specifically, black women "chose to use the apparatus of the Union Army and the strategy of claiming national inclusion to maneuver for a better life and to construct a civic existence" (p. 3). Romeo deftly examines how black women's daily acts of resistance and efforts in court not only ended slavery's hold and enabled women to claim freedom and citizenship but also led to the expansion of federal power. "The litigating slave women of antebellum St. Louis and the female activists of the Civil War period," Romeo argues, "left a rich legal heritage for postwar civil rights activists and set the stage for African American women to continue to play a critical role in their own liberation" (p. 10).

Romeo's concise work begins with an obligatory discussion of antebellum uses of legal systems and how civilian courts circumscribed the lives of enslaved and free black people. Romeo shows how the antebellum legal apparatus was designed to uphold slaveholders' rights rather than extend freedom, state citizenship, or dignity to African Americans. By accepting enslaved women's testimony against their enslavers, Romeo reveals the pivotal role that the First and Second Confiscation Acts played in opening new spaces and creating opportunities for black women to secure freedom for themselves and their families within the military legal system.

Black women actively participated in the military legal system. Romeo convincingly demonstrates in chapters 3 and 4 how these women secured protection, support, and employment from the United States military during the Civil War and military occupation. …

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