Broken Black Bodies: African American Women and Intimate Partner violence in the post Civil War South

Jessica Millward
UC Irvine

The scholarship on African Americans and violence in the post Civil war South centers almost exclusively on the lynching of Black men. This book length project expands the terrain of the post war experience by focusing on intimate partner violence among African Americans. By using the transnational feminist methodologies of “critical fabulation,” “illegibility,” and “archives of difference,” this project discusses how African American women experienced, interpreted, and survived intimate partner violence in the first 50 years after slavery. This project is based on local court testimony and petitions made to the Freedman’s Bureau by African American women in the state of Georgia. Given that Emancipation was the first time that formerly enslaved people possessed legal rights to their own bodies, what did it mean for African American women to use the courts to adjudicate interactions in their private worlds? As this project reveals, despite the fact that the 15th Amendment denied African American women the right to vote, they used the courts to advance their own form of legal personhood. Moreover, the seemingly illegibility of African American women in the archive holds ramifications for the inability to see gendered violence in the contemporary era of Black Lives Matter.