Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Hunter, "Bound in Wedlock"

New from Harvard University Press: Bound in Wedlock: Slave and Free Black Marriage in the Nineteenth Century (May 2017), by Tera W. Hunter (Princeton University). A description from the Press:
Americans have long viewed marriage between a white man and a white woman as a sacred union. But marriages between African Americans have seldom been treated with the same reverence. This discriminatory legacy traces back to centuries of slavery, when the overwhelming majority of black married couples were bound in servitude as well as wedlock. Though their unions were not legally recognized, slaves commonly married, fully aware that their marital bonds would be sustained or nullified according to the whims of white masters.
Bound in Wedlock is the first comprehensive history of African American marriage in the nineteenth century. Uncovering the experiences of African American spouses in plantation records, legal and court documents, and pension files, Tera W. Hunter reveals the myriad ways couples adopted, adapted, revised, and rejected white Christian ideas of marriage. Setting their own standards for conjugal relationships, enslaved husbands and wives were creative and, of necessity, practical in starting and supporting families under conditions of uncertainty and cruelty.
After emancipation, white racism continued to menace black marriages. Laws passed during Reconstruction, ostensibly to secure the civil rights of newly freed African American citizens, were often coercive and repressive. Informal antebellum traditions of marriage were criminalized, and the new legal regime became a convenient tool for plantation owners to discipline agricultural workers. Recognition of the right of African Americans to enter into wedlock on terms equal to whites would remain a struggle into the Jim Crow era, and its legacy would resonate well into the twentieth century.
A few blurbs:
Tera Hunter’s fascinating and intensive assessment of slave and free marriages in the nineteenth century details powerfully both the supreme importance of kinship relations and the complex ways that the persistence of post–Civil War white supremacy vexed and hampered African American family integrity even more directly than legacies of slavery did.—Nancy F. Cott

Bound in Wedlock demonstrates that the history of African American marriage is far more than a legacy of slavery. Instead, it is a story at once rooted in a distinctive collective experience, intensely personal, and at the same time bound up in the legal, social, and cultural transformations that re-made marriage for all Americans. Wide-ranging, learned, and deeply researched, it is a splendid accomplishment.—Dylan C. Penningroth
More information is available here.

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