The Identity of Black Women in the Post-Bellum Period 1865-1885
Throughout history, the black woman has always had a multitude of responsibilities thrust upon her shoulders. This was never truer than for southern black women in the period between 1865 and 1885. In this span of twenty years, these women were responsible for their children, their husbands, supporting their families, their fight for freedom as black citizens and as women, their sexual freedom, and various other issues that impacted their lives. All of these aspects of the black woman’s life defined who she was. Each of her experiences and battles shaped the life that she lived, and the way she was perceived by the outside world.
Who were these women, and how did the experiences in their life shape who they were? This essay will argue that these women’s identities can be surmised by the way in which they handled the different responsibilities and experiences that they were exposed to in the aftermath of slavery. These responsibilities and experiences formed who they were; only by looking at the identities of these women can their lives be studied and explored. In this essay the southern black woman’s occupational identity, sexual identity, family identity, and gender identity will be examined. There are, of course, many more specific aspects of these women’s identity, but these are the ones that furnish the clearest and most specific view of what these women were about. It is through these four aspects of the southern black women’s identity a picture of them can be drawn. One will be able to recognize the hardships they overcame and the effort they put forth in order to be seen as citizens of the United States of America.
In the period after the Civil War, work was very important to the southern black woman; she was free for the first time and wanted to assert her freedom and independence. One of the first things that the black woman attempted, after gaining her freedom, was to obtain a job. These women learned quickly, however, that they would not be equals just because they were now free. The job opportunities available to black women, like many other aspects of their lives, would be of much less quality than the jobs offered to the rest of the population. They would be low paying, involve extended hours, and would put them in constant danger; “black women would have to negotiate the literal rough terrain of Atlanta and the social consequences it imposed on their everyday lives as they struggled to earn a living for their families and searched for peace of mind.” They would have to persevere in their quest to work and support their household.
After the Civil War, all black citizens of the Unites States were allegedly free. The thirteenth amendment banning slavery had been passed and the reconstruction of the South was moving along swiftly. This promised freedom, however, was far from what was expected. There were many laws and forces at work...