Southern Horrors: Women and the Politics of Rape and Lynching

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Overview

Between 1880 and 1930, close to 200 women were murdered by lynch mobs in the American South. Many more were tarred and feathered, burned, whipped, or raped. In this brutal world of white supremacist politics and patriarchy, a world violently divided by race, gender, and class, black and white women defended themselves and challenged the male power brokers. Crystal Feimster breaks new ground in her story of the racial politics of the postbellum South by focusing on the volatile issue of sexual violence.

Pairing the lives of two Southern women—Ida B. Wells, who fearlessly branded lynching a white tool of political terror against southern blacks, and Rebecca Latimer Felton, who urged white men to prove their manhood by lynching black men accused of raping white women—Feimster makes visible the ways in which black and white women sought protection and political power in the New South. While Wells was black and Felton was white, both were journalists, temperance women, suffragists, and anti-rape activists. By placing their concerns at the center of southern politics, Feimster illuminates a critical and novel aspect of southern racial and sexual dynamics. Despite being on opposite sides of the lynching question, both Wells and Felton sought protection from sexual violence and political empowerment for women.

Southern Horrors provides a startling view into the Jim Crow South where the precarious and subordinate position of women linked black and white anti-rape activists together in fragile political alliances. It is a story that reveals how the complex drama of political power, race, and sex played out in the lives of Southern women.

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Editorial Reviews

Times Higher Education

Fascinating...Feimster's account challenges us to think again about race and sexual politics...[A] rich and detailed account...The work of Rebecca Felton and Ida Wells engaged with the implications of a form (although not a unique one) of sexual politics, and Feimster's account should be rightly acclaimed as testament to these projects.
— Mary Evans

Double X

Historian Crystal N. Feimster provides an opportunity to better understand the lack of sympathy between black and white suffragists and how lynching spurred both to the political activism that eventually won women the vote...This account leaves us with a sense of what made the fights for racial equality and women's suffrage so complicated and contentious. We're left, too, with an appreciation of the gumption both Wells and Felton showed entering a political fray resistant to their participation and unable to conceive of changes that seem so obviously necessary in hindsight.
— Margaret Wheeler Johnson

San Francisco Book Review

An interesting, though somewhat disheartening, tale of the times, this book is destined for a special place in the classrooms and libraries of those concerned with sexual and racial politics. It is a readable study for those simply interested in the historical account, and is made so by multiple narratives of affected citizens, passages from diaries and newspapers, as well as the lives of the two main scholars.
— Allena Tapia

Darlene Clark Hine
Feimster's compelling, and profoundly unsettling, history of rape and lynching illuminates the gendered racial politics of sexual violence in the aftermath of Emancipation.
Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore
Southern Horrors, a chilling tale that has been largely suppressed until now, exposes lynching as a gendered phenomenon in which southern women played a central role as actors and as victims. This is a breakthrough analysis of the role that lynching served in southern political culture.
Timothy B. Tyson
Feimster traces the lives of two political incendiaries, Ida B. Wells and Rebecca Felton, who illuminate the landscape of American race and gender politics. Brilliantly analytical, strikingly well-narrated, this monumental book masters theme and story to reveal heretofore hidden histories of the women who both played and transformed the politics of rape and lynching in the New South.
Suzanne Lebsock
Thoughtful and engaging, Crystal Feimster's Southern Horrors forces us to rethink women's history and the history of the American South. Accessible to students and general readers, this powerful story is told with originality and sophistication.
Leon F. Litwack
Southern Horrors, an impressive achievement, expands and deepens our understanding of the sexual and racial politics of the American South. Through the public careers of two women and a cast of thousands, Crystal Feimster compels us to grapple with the full dimensions of an American tragedy and the movements for change it set in motion.
Times Higher Education - Mary Evans
Fascinating...Feimster's account challenges us to think again about race and sexual politics...[A] rich and detailed account...The work of Rebecca Felton and Ida Wells engaged with the implications of a form (although not a unique one) of sexual politics, and Feimster's account should be rightly acclaimed as testament to these projects.
Double X - Margaret Wheeler Johnson
Historian Crystal N. Feimster provides an opportunity to better understand the lack of sympathy between black and white suffragists and how lynching spurred both to the political activism that eventually won women the vote...This account leaves us with a sense of what made the fights for racial equality and women's suffrage so complicated and contentious. We're left, too, with an appreciation of the gumption both Wells and Felton showed entering a political fray resistant to their participation and unable to conceive of changes that seem so obviously necessary in hindsight.
San Francisco Book Review - Allena Tapia
An interesting, though somewhat disheartening, tale of the times, this book is destined for a special place in the classrooms and libraries of those concerned with sexual and racial politics. It is a readable study for those simply interested in the historical account, and is made so by multiple narratives of affected citizens, passages from diaries and newspapers, as well as the lives of the two main scholars.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674061859
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 9/30/2011
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 922,223
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Crystal N. Feimster is Assistant Professor in the African American Studies Department and American Studies Program at Yale University.
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Table of Contents

  • Introduction: In Black and White
  • 1. The Horrors of War
  • 2. The Violent Transition from Freedom to Segregation
  • 3. Southern White Women and the Anti-rape Movement
  • 4. Organizing in Defense of Black Womanhood
  • 5. New Southern Women and the Triumph of White Supremacy
  • 6. The Lynching of Black and White Women
  • 7. Equal Rights for Southern Women
  • 8. The Gender and Racial Politics of the Anti-lynching Movement
  • Appendix: List of Female Victims of Lynching

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