Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation



First Advisor

Mark M Smith


identity among African Americans in South Carolina during Reconstruction. Moving from the battles to define freedom on the plantations of rural Barnwell District at the dawn of freedom, to the drill fields of the state militia; from the church pulpits and legislative halls where elite black men articulated their visions of what it meant to be and act as a man, to the rice swamps of the Carolina lowcountry where freedmen and women offered alternate definitions, it investigates the spaces where black men, both freemen and freedmen, worked to define and deploy their ideas about manhood in the era of emancipation. During this period American society was thrown into flux and the central question at the heart of the battles, both literal and figurative, fought in those years was how to organize and distribute power within society. The ability to claim citizenship was of vital importance in these contests and, fundamentally, these struggles over citizenship were rooted in gender.

We know much more about the varieties of manhood both before and after Reconstruction, with innovative studies from scholars like Stephanie McCurry, Gail Bederman, and Stephen Kantrowitz telling us much about the significant role that ideologies of manhood played in shaping the social and political landscape of both the South and the nation. My work fills a blind spot in the historiography of Reconstruction by closely examining the significant role that discourses of gender played in shaping the course of social and political Reconstruction in the years after the Civil War. Applying the methodologies of gender studies to Reconstruction offers new insights into the period. It argues that black men, especially the men who were among the elite group that filled the seats of the state legislature, served as officers in the state militia, or traveled south as missionaries of various Northern religious denominations, built their identities as men and as citizens upon their ability to perform the normative roles of manhood as they were defined within the dominant culture. They worked hard to assert their authority over their communities and households, which included the ability to both control and protect the dependent classes within society, a core component of white male identity in the Old South. But their construction was not merely imitative; it was an important means of resistance. These men used discourses of gender to act politically, to organize collectively and resist an oppressive, white supremacist society and, ultimately, to redefine their own place within that society. It was through their performance of manhood that they made their claims to citizenship rights and social status that, they argued, were due them precisely because their actions validated their identity as men.


© 2012, Ehren Keegan Foley