'To Make Him Feel His Manhood': Black Male Identity and the Politics of Gender in the Post-Emancipation South

Ehren Keegan Foley, University of South Carolina


My dissertation explores the process of construction and contestation of gender 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.