The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies

By Victoria E. Bynum | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
Negotiating Boundaries of
Race and Gender in Jim Crow Mississippi:
The Women of the Knight Family

The Knight family of the Jones County region of Mississippi has long confounded notions about race in the United States. Descended from white Southerners, former slaves, and Native Americans, it did not fit into the discrete categories of racial identity demanded by Jim Crow laws in the aftermath of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Furthermore, many of the family members refused to abide by the South’s “one drop” rule, which demanded that white persons with any degree of African ancestry identify themselves as black.

The lives of the multiracial Knight women reveal various strategies by which conventions of gender, class, and marriage might be manipulated to escape the worst effects of racial discrimination. The daughters of former slave George Ann Knight— Anna, born in 1874, Grace, born in 1891, and Lessie, born in 1894— learned early in life that a poor “mulatta” living in the Piney Woods of Mississippi could hope for little better than the economic support of a white man in exchange for sexual favors. Neither the mother nor the grandmother of the sisters ever married, but both gave birth to

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