The Frances S. Summersell Center for the Study of the South is pleased to announce that the winner of the fourth biennial Deep South Book Prize is Tera Hunter, for her book Bound in Wedlock: Slave and Free Black Marriage in the Nineteenth Century (Belknap Press, 2017).
Bound in Wedlock is the first comprehensive history of African American marriage in the nineteenth century. Uncovering the experiences of African American spouses in plantation records, legal and court documents, and pension files, Hunter reveals the myriad ways couples adopted, adapted, revised, and rejected white Christian ideas of marriage. Setting their own standards for conjugal relationships, enslaved husbands and wives were creative and, of necessity, practical in starting and supporting families under conditions of uncertainty and cruelty.
After emancipation, white racism continued to menace black marriages. Laws passed during Reconstruction, ostensibly to secure the civil rights of newly freed African American citizens, were often coercive and repressive. Informal antebellum traditions of marriage were criminalized, and the new legal regime became a convenient tool for plantation owners to discipline agricultural workers. Recognition of the right of African Americans to enter into wedlock on terms equal to whites would remain a struggle into the Jim Crow era, and its legacy would resonate well into the twentieth century.
Dr. Hunter will receive her award and offer a public lecture in January 2019.
Receiving honorable mentions from the Summersell Center are five additional books, each of which provided the book prize committee with hard choices and each of which is deserving of praise in its own right. They are, in alphabetical order:
- Sarah Gardner, Reviewing the South: The Literary Marketplace and the Southern Renaissance, 1920-1941 (Cambridge, 2017).
- Donald Mathews, At the Altar of Lynching: Burning Sam Hose in the American South (Cambridge, 2017).
- Melissa Milewski, Litigating Across the Color Line: Civil Cases Between Black and White Southerners from the End of Slavery to Civil Rights (Oxford, 2017).
- Rosalind Rosenberg, Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray (Oxford, 2017).