Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Brimmer, "Claiming Union Widowhood"

We missed this one back when Duke University Press published it in 2020 (thanks to New Books Network for flagging it): Claiming Union Widowhood: Race, Respectability, and Poverty in the Post-Emancipation South, by Brandi Clay Brimmer(Spelman College). About the book:

In Claiming Union Widowhood, Brandi Clay Brimmer analyzes the US pension system from the perspective of poor black women during and after the Civil War. Reconstructing the grassroots pension network in New Bern, North Carolina, through a broad range of historical sources, she outlines how the mothers, wives, and widows of black Union soldiers struggled to claim pensions in the face of evidentiary obstacles and personal scrutiny. Brimmer exposes and examines the numerous attempts by the federal government to exclude black women from receiving the federal pensions that they had been promised. Her analyses illustrate the complexities of social policy and law administration and the interconnectedness of race, gender, and class formation. Expanding on previous analyses of pension records, Brimmer offers an interpretive framework of emancipation and the freedom narrative that places black women at the forefront of demands for black citizenship.

A few blurbs: 

“Brandi Clay Brimmer has written an amazing social history that transforms the study of poor black women’s quest for citizenship and recognition. Through finely grained research she revises our understanding of the racialized gendered state from the standpoint of poor women themselves. She advances how we think about the agency of newly emancipated women from after the Civil War into the late nineteenth century, in the process challenging existing interpretations about the origins of social assistance in the modern United States. This is historical research at its best.” — Eileen Boris

“This compelling study of eastern North Carolina black women’s claims for Union widows’ pensions marshals methodologically complex evidence to make striking arguments on questions of racialized motherhood, the origins of the welfare state, class formation, and Reconstruction’s failures. Brandi Clay Brimmer recaptures in rich detail the lives of heretofore unknown women who tried and often failed to secure their full Fourteenth Amendment rights. This book is a timely contribution to current debates on the nation’s history of racial injustice and a poignant saga of promises made and promises broken.” — Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore

More information is available here. An interview with the author is available here, at New Books Network. 

-- Karen Tani