WOMEN: BLACK AND WHITE IN THE OLD SOUTH
Review/PaperOn: Sally G. McMillen’sSouthernWomen: Black and White in the Old South
REVIEW/PAPERON: SALLY G. MCMILLEN’SSOUTHERNWOMEN: BLACK AND WHITE IN THE OLD SOUTH
HarlanDavidson in the year 2002, published Sally G. McMillen’s SouthernWomen: Black and White in the Old South second edition. The book isan exciting read into a synthesis of the series of American history.The editors were distinctively clear when they wrote in the forewordthat the intention of the series was offering the readers a thoroughscrutiny of the opinions of today’s historians on the centralaspects, not forgetting themes of America’s past. Since the firstpublishing of Sally G. McMillen’s book in 1992, it was evidentlyclear that that the field of the history of the southern womendeserved a pace among the main themes of the history of the UnitedStates. McMillen in the book displays her ability to integrate herscholarly survey with the historical readings of the last decadeskillfully. The result is magnificent and highly enjoyable andinformative synthesis useful to both experts and beginners in thefield.
McMillentackles the myths about the delicate mistresses of the plantationsand profligate or matriarchal women of color impede thereconstruction of historical sacrifices, joys, hardships andcontribution of the southern women. McMillen (2002) argues that it isimportant that the history and tales of the women of the south aretold precisely because for long periods researchers have overlookedthem. McMillen at times, during the course of the book, has noalternative, but to offer sketchy and brief contours of the historyof the South during the early national days and colonial era.
McMillenin the first chapter talks about the history of slavery in an effortof bringing things into perspective. During the time that NorthAmerica was under the colonization of the Europeans, there was vastland, excessive work and a severe shortage of labor. Consequently,there was the need for men and women to work on the land. McMillen(2002) explains that it was not until the early 17th century that aDutch ship full of African slaves in it provided the much-neededsolution, which would later become a new-fangled predicament to theNew World. The African slaves proved to be inexpensive on large farmswith labor-intensive non-subsistence crops like tobacco. Thefluctuating prices of tobacco made slavery less profitable in theSouth. There was the formulation of laws in an effort of trying toprotect the slaves in circumstances where it was acceptable (Kennedy,2010). An analysis on the completion of the American Revolutionreveals slavery was unprofitable and gradually started dying out inthe North.
Slaveryin the United States became a legitimate organization of the thenchattel for human slavery during the early 18 and the late 19thcentury and that when the different between the black and white womenof the south become more vivid than ever. From the early colonialdays, the British North America had been practicing slavery and hadbeen made lawful in all the 13 states during the times of thepronouncement of independence (Kennedy, 2010). Before the inceptionof the American Revolution, there had been the institutionalizationof slavery as racial caste-linked with African ancestry. Theratification of the constitution saw a comparatively sizeable amountof people of color being among the few privileged voters. However, itwas not until the Revolutionary war that there was the passing ofabolitionist laws in most northern parts of the United States and noteven a single state in the South Subsequently, various movements cameinto existence to help abolish slavery (Kennedy, 2010). Most of thestates of the North had a relatively high proportion of free laborcompared to those in the south.
Proslaverymovements became torn between morals and the monetary profits ofslavery and the legal issues raised, but nonetheless grew moreself-protective. He explains that their arguments emanated from thefact that they believed black people especially the women lacked thecapability of caring for themselves synonymous to little children(McMillen,2008).Consequently, proslavery institutions further argued that enslavementof people of color was just but a benign organization that clothed,fed and kept the black communities occupied. There was also thebelief that people hailing from the black community were inferior inevery aspect of life to the whites (Kennedy, 2010). Northernershadrefused to believe in the generosity of slavery giving rise to theopinions of abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison andFrederick Douglass.
Inreality, women of color underwent all sorts of mistreatment rangingfrom paternalistic and mild to sadistic and cruel. Wives, husbands,and children had to separate from one another through organizedauctions and had to endure an unusual whipping. The Supreme Court in1857 made the ruling that slaves were a subhuman property that had norights whatsoever. The case presented by Dred Scott, a slave that hadworked to gain his liberation and that of his family from their ownerfor many years (Kennedy, 2010). Subsequently, women of color in theSouth had no legal channels of protesting the mistreatment they wentthrough. McMillen (2002) illustrates that Southern women often livedin fear of open rebellion, but this was a rare phenomenon. However,it was common for the women with the help of their husbands to feignillnesses, sabotage farm properties, organize go-slows and sometimesgo to the extent of committing murder or arson. Moreover, runningaway for either long or short periods was also a common occurrence.
WhiteAmericas went to the extent of enacting legally sanctioned racismthat privileged the white Americans citizen only. Such opportunitieselude the Native Americans like the women of the south (Kennedy,2010). The social injustices that the women of color in the South hadto endure included poor education, risks of repatriation ofcitizenship, violation of voting rights, land ownership, and extendedcriminal procedures. Additionally, the women of color in the southhad their culture deprived of them through racism and segregation.Many young African American women between ages fifteen to twentyyears were sexually tortured (Kennedy, 2010). The innocence of thegirls eluded them through experiences of sexual, psychological andphysical abuse.
African-American women in the South had to live in dire poor livingconditions. The immortality rate among them escalated compared to thewhite women. Poor sanitation and maternal conditions among theAfrican American women of the South resulted in increased levels ofdiseases like cholera and typhoid (Kennedy, 2010). The laws then didnot allow the women the right and privilege to access better andimproved health care. The inaccessibility of better and improvedhealth care to the women, lead to the death of many African Americansthat would not have died (Kennedy, 2010). During the enslavement era,African-American women in the South worked on the farms, cooked andbuilttrenches in the war but they did all that without pay (McMillen,2002).
McMillenin the book looks at the family set up of the people of the south.She further explores the structure of the enslaved families,miscegenation, courtship, stability, sexuality, the change in thelegal status of the married women as well as the dynamics ofmatrimony itself. McMillen (2008) explains how the family was thesource of strength for the women of the south but was also the sourceof their greatest emotional pain and affliction. Women of color inthe south together with their husbands had the ability to balance sexratios, a factor that made it seamlessly possible for the differentslaves to start and form families. However, as McMillen (2002)explains, it was quite a herculean task keeping the families intact.The case was, however, different for the white women of the south atthat who thanks to marriage had the guarantee of not sharing livingspace.
Onecould not help but notice how careful McMillen was in discussingmatters to deal with interracial sex at the time especially one thatwas subfield productive. The type of literature that she was able toincorporate was new and made explorations into the possibility of theexistence of love across the color divide of the time. McMillen madethe assumption that rape whether statutory or not was part of slaveownership and that women of color in the South had to endure.However, many might find her comment where she explained that somewomen become seductress and predators as unintended and unfortunateas it was a reinforcing factor about black women’s voracity forsexual intercourse. The observation was a terrific reminder of howslaves were anything but powerless in the midst of the rigid legaland social hierarchies of the South.
Atthe beginning of the 19th century, various organizations started toadvocate the movement of African Americans to destinations where theAfrican Americans would enjoy greater freedom. Groups like theAmerican Colonization Society (A.C.S) proposed for the return ofAfrican Americans back to Africa. Consequently, the AmericanColonization Society (A.C.S) established the colony of Liberia,helping thousands of African American slaves to move from America.Renault African Americans leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., MarcusGarvey, and Malcolm X pushed for the liberation and equality of theAfrican Americans especially women (Kennedy, 2010). Some of theleaders organized meetings and crusades to push for the enactment oflegislation that would eradicate racism in the United States. Mostnotably, the Martin Luther King Jr. speech on civil rights equalityfor the African Americans that helped push for the legislation.
Thebook Southern Women: Black and White in the Old South captures theattention of the reader of the reader fully by the use of the wordsthat the author employs and the provision of immense suspenseavailable in the novel. The story has an aspect of the unpredictabletwist of events like for instance, the person behind the killings ofthe jury members. The unpredictability of the novel, Southern Women:Black and White in the Old South makes the reader want to continuereading the book. John Grisham has employed the vast usage of goodstory telling capabilities and entertaining adventures, a factor thatis also notable to all of his other works. The book is a must read toeveryone and anyone who is yet to read the book, Southern Women:Black and White in the Old South.
McMillen,S. G. (2002). Southernwomen: Black and white in the Old South.Wheeling, Ill: Harland Davidson.
McMillen,S. G. (2008). SenecaFalls and the origins of the women`s rights movement.Oxford University Press.
Kennedy,V. L. (2010). Bornsouthern: Childbirth, motherhood, and social networks in the old South.Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.