Facing Freedom: An African American Community in Virginia from Reconstruction to Jim Crow

By Shearer, Tobin Miller | The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, October 1, 2018 | Go to article overview

Facing Freedom: An African American Community in Virginia from Reconstruction to Jim Crow


Shearer, Tobin Miller, The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography


Facing Freedom: An African American Community in Virginia from Reconstruction to Jim Crow * Daniel B. Thorp * Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2017 « 296 pp. *$39.50

The world inhabited by African American residents of Montgomery County, Virginia, during Reconstruction has been made relevant in rich historical detail through the work of Daniel B. Thorp. In Facing Freedom, he argues that a community study like his both challenges and affirms the findings of Reconstruction-era historians less focused on a particular region. Several broad claims, such as southern historian Stephen Hahn's assertion that racially segregated communities offered African Americans a measure of protection from white hostility, come into question. In this instance, Thorp finds that increasing social distance between whites and blacks also resulted in greater animosity toward and distrust of the black community. As opportunities for cross-racial relationships diminished, the excesses of white racism increased.

Thorp explores the following themes: people and communities-migration, economics, and race relations; families-their structure, constitution, and legal recognition; land and jobs-occupations, gender dynamics, and changes over time; schools-philosophies of education, buildings, and funding; churches-facilities, leadership, and community position; and politics-the courts, voting, and law enforcement. Together they offer a comprehensive treatment of Montgomery County's black community. Each chapter not only examines macro-regional trends but also introduces readers to individual African Americans who populated towns, formed families, organized schools, built churches, and sued in the courts. Thaddeus Morgan and Amanda Price married but did not have the chance to raise a family together. Only in his third marriage did Morgan find the matrimonial stability he sought. Ellen and Gordon Mills owned thirty acres at the time of Gordon's death. Third-grader Hart Wayland assured his school's benefactors that he wrote "pretty well" (p. …

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