Terror in the Heart of Freedom

Citizenship, Sexual Violence, and the Meaning of Race in the Postemancipation South

By Hannah Rosen

424 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 3 illus., 1 map, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5882-0
    Published: February 2009
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-8856-8
    Published: June 2009
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-7424-5
    Published: June 2009

Gender and American Culture

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Awards & distinctions

2009 Berkshire Conference of Women Historians First Book Prize

2010 Willie Lee Rose Prize, Southern Association for Women Historians

2010 Avery O. Craven Award, Organization of American Historians

The meaning of race in the antebellum southern United States was anchored in the racial exclusivity of slavery (coded as black) and full citizenship (coded as white as well as male). These traditional definitions of race were radically disrupted after emancipation, when citizenship was granted to all persons born in the United States and suffrage was extended to all men. Hannah Rosen persuasively argues that in this critical moment of Reconstruction, contests over the future meaning of race were often fought on the terrain of gender.

Sexual violence--specifically, white-on-black rape--emerged as a critical arena in postemancipation struggles over African American citizenship. Analyzing the testimony of rape survivors, Rosen finds that white men often staged elaborate attacks meant to enact prior racial hierarchy. Through their testimony, black women defiantly rejected such hierarchy and claimed their new and equal rights. Rosen explains how heated debates over interracial marriage were also attempts by whites to undermine African American men's demands for suffrage and a voice in public affairs. By connecting histories of rape and discourses of "social equality" with struggles over citizenship, Rosen shows how gendered violence and gendered rhetorics of race together produced a climate of terror for black men and women seeking to exercise their new rights as citizens. Linking political events at the city, state, and regional levels, Rosen places gender and sexual violence at the heart of understanding the reconsolidation of race and racism in the postemancipation United States.

About the Author

Hannah Rosen is assistant professor in the Program in American Culture and the Women's Studies Department at the University of Michigan.

For more information about Hannah Rosen, visit the Author Page.


"A provocative and ultimately persuasive account of the symbolic and discursive power of violence to construct meanings of citizenship and political belonging."--Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

"An admirable job. . . . Invaluable to students of Reconstruction, race, or gender. . . . Highly recommended."--Choice

"Rosen's accomplishments in this book are impressive and many. Combining solid research with an astute analysis of political rhetoric, her conclusions . . . are persuasive. . . . Of value and interest to the specialist as well as the classroom teacher."--Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era

"A significant contribution in our understanding of the meaning of gender roles, racial and sexual violence, and citizenship."--The Alabama Review

"Interesting and sound. . . . Rosen makes a unique contribution."--Arkansas Historical Quarterly

"An excellent and important book. Rosen has made strong and thought-provoking connections between the politics of citizenship, gender constructions, and sexual violence in the South during Reconstruction. . . . An interesting and powerful work."--Journal of American Ethnic History