Protestants, Politics, and Power: Race, Gender, and Religion in the Post-Emancipation Mississippi River Valley, 1863-1900
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CitationJemison, Elizabeth. 2015. Protestants, Politics, and Power: Race, Gender, and Religion in the Post-Emancipation Mississippi River Valley, 1863-1900. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation argues that Protestant Christianity provided the language through which individuals and communities created the political, social, and cultural future of the post-emancipation South. Christian arguments and organizations gave newly emancipated African Americans strong strategies for claiming political and civil rights as citizens and for denouncing racialized violence. Yet simultaneously, white southerners’ Christian claims, based in proslavery theology, created justifications for white supremacist political power and eventually for segregation.
This project presents a new history of the creation of segregation from the hopes and uncertainties of emancipation through a close analysis of the Mississippi River Valley region of Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, and West Tennessee. Religious arguments furnished foundations for the work of building a new South, whether in newly formed African American churches and schools, local political debates, or white supremacist organizing. Studying both African American and white Christians during the years when churches quickly became racially separated allows this work to explain how groups across lines of race and denomination responded to each other’s religious, cultural, and political strategies. This dissertation centers these communities’ theological ideas and religious narratives within a critical analysis of race, gender, and political power. Analyzing theology as the intellectual domain of non-elites as well as those in power allows me to demonstrate the ways that religious ideas helped to construct categories of race and gender and to determine who was worthy of civil and political rights. This work draws upon a wide range of archival sources, including previously unexamined material.
This dissertation advances several scholarly conversations. It offers the first sustained examination of the life of proslavery theology after emancipation. Rather than presuming that white southern Christians abandoned such arguments after emancipation, this project shows that white Christians reconfigured these claims to create religious justifications for segregation. Within these renegotiated religious claims about social order, African American and white Christians made religious arguments about racial violence, ranging from justifying the violence to arguing that it was antithetical to Christian identity. During the same years, African Americans argued that they deserved civil and political rights both because they were citizens and because they were Christians. This linking of identities as citizens and as Christians provided a vital political strategy in the midst of post-emancipation violence and the uncertain future of African Americans’ rights. Through its five chronologically-structured chapters, this project demonstrates Protestant Christianity’s central role in African American and white southerners’ political lives from the Civil War to the turn of the twentieth century.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:17467223
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