The Racialized Politics of Home in Slavery and Freedom

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While most historians interpret the motivations of the black freedom struggle—including the acquisition of legal freedom and citizenship—as public and traditionally political issues, this project places black homes at the center of the narrative. Scholars often overlook how the rights of home—including privacy, freedom of movement, and the security of self and family in one’s dwelling—suffused the private and public politics of nineteenth-century Americans. Black women and men sought solutions to violent social injustices by drawing on a long tradition of resistance and activism that began before the opening of ballot boxes, government offices, and citizenship. They sought freedom and rights through the home. This dissertation uses a wide range of material, visual, and textual sources to demonstrate how enslaved and free black Americans gave meaning to their lives, shaped their hopes, and sought individual and social change through their dwelling space, structure, and objects. Home was a concept, space, and structure that shaped the meaning and experience of slavery and liberty. Throughout the long nineteenth century, the black home functioned simultaneously as a symbol that could destroy or invigorate the racist social structure that undergirded slavery. In physical dwellings throughout the American South, black men and women fought to build privacy and security into their dwellings and lives, even as white southerners racialized these rights for white families only. Looking across the chasm of war and emancipation uncovers the crucial role of home to evolving notions of freedom in the tumultuous long nineteenth century. Revealing the connections between race, home, and liberty, this project reorients the narrative of the black freedom struggle towards the domestic spaces and objects that shaped the politics of nineteenth-century Americans.

Doctor of Philosophy
American history, African American history

Stewart, Whitney Nell. "The Racialized Politics of Home in Slavery and Freedom." (2017) Diss., Rice University.

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