In May 1862, hundreds of African-Americans freed themselves in the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta and in the process destroyed the South's fundamental structure of power - the plantation household. Yet at the moment of freedom, southerners did not discard what they knew. Instead, blacks and whites, men and women constructed competing visions of freedom based on their particular understanding of household authority. General Freedoms explores this first generation of freedom and presents an intimate history of the political consciousness of the franchised and disenfranchised during the Civil War and Reconstruction in the Mississippi Delta. Gendered Freedoms is the first book to analyze black and white southerners' subjective understandings of the household, challenging us to reexamine the relationship between identity and political consciousness. Where others emphasize the household principally as a structure based on an ideology of power, Nancy Bercaw demonstrates how deeply household hierarchies permeated into southerners' most personal sense of themselves, shaping their perceptions of their autonomy, rights, duties, and obligations to one another. The author highlights the importance of African-American and white women and integrates them into her analysis to reveal political consciousness in both its public and its private dimensions. The first to uncover these largely unheard of voices of the region, the author investigates the conservative and radical traditions embodied in southern dissent. In order to capture the personal perspectives of individual southerners, the author mines a variety of archival collections which record the public and private responses of southern white men and women to war and emancipation - providing rare insight into how black men and women defined and contested the meaning of freedom within their households and communities. The end product is an intimate window into the lives of individuals in the Delta from 1861 to 1875, as they contested the nature of political rights from the perspective of whiteness and blackness, manhood and womanhood, freedom and dependency.
Nancy Bercaw is associate professor of history and southern studies at the University of Mississippi. She is the author ofGendered Freedoms: Race, Rights, and the Politics of Household in the Delta, 1861-1875.