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White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the Nineteenth-Century South Paperback – January 11, 1999

4 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

White Women, Black Men is a fascinating study of a category of interracial relationships that conventional wisdom has held did not exist: liaisons (the term author Martha Hodes prefers) between black men and white women in the antebellum South. Hodes shows how such relationships were tolerated, though not encouraged, to a surprising degree before the Civil War. In a fascinating feat of historical detective work, she uses court documents and other records in cases involving racial status, rape, divorce, and property, to explore the nature of these relationships. She shows white women who voluntarily gave up their privileged status to cohabit with black men, and white communities that turned a blind eye toward such unions. It was not until after the Civil War--when freedom for blacks meant Southern whites needed new ways to enforce their putative superiority--that black men were routinely punished with violence for real, or imagined, relationships with white women. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Hodes (history, New York Univ.) provides the first real scholarly exploration of this important topic. Relying primarily on legal documents and testimony generated by court cases, Hodes gives us several detailed case studies. She finds that before the Civil War, whites generally did not react violently to cases of interracial liaison but rather displayed a complex range of attitudes, from indifference to concern (especially if children resulted from the "connection"). In the postbellum period, however, whites often responded with extreme violence to any hint of miscegenation. Indeed, in an effort to diminish black political power, whites often invented incidents of interracial contact and reacted accordingly. A brilliant work, imaginatively researched and well written. Highly recommended.?Anthony O. Edmonds, Ball State Univ., Muncie, Ind.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (January 11, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300077505
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300077506
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #692,629 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a scandalously good and honest book; well researched and successful in pulling back the scab on one of the many important subterranean areas of southern America's lurid but very active cross-racial sexual life. Most of America's social history remains tucked away in various nooks and crannies of our collective repressed minds.

While the evidence is everywhere (the large numbers of American mulattoes and the fact that half of all American blacks and Native Americans have some white blood and rather incredibly about 30% of all whites have some black blood: How did it get that way? -- not through the White woman-Black man route, for sure.

There is a great deal to chew on here. Among others, it puts to rest the old myth of the wild black buck rapist. Many, if not most of the blacks lynched for rape were certifiably engaged in love affairs discovered and exposed too soon, with predictable consequences: The black man usually ended up paying the ultimate price to protect the reputation of his white female lover. But in many such instances the woman refused to take the "he raped me defense" and openly declared her love for her illicit black mate, and as a result, also suffered the inevitable consequences -effective expulsion from the white race.

When the other half of this sordid story comes to the fore - the "goings-on in the dark" between white men and black women -- only then can we truly say that America is coming of age. Five stars
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I don't think I have ever read an account of such and intriguing antebellum topic with so many primary sources used. The majority of the book is based on court documents from Virginia and Appalachia. It's really quiet amazing how common liaisons between different races were in this time period and oddly how tolerated they were. This book definitely changed my perception about southern society at this time.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Very interesting collection of examples of the "taboo" subject of interracial relationships in the highly volatile environment of the slave-holding South. Though provoking.
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Clear language covering a broad period and geographic area. A good foray into the legal context and variety of responses in various areas of the south.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
this was a good read for understanding the myths of sexual relations between white women and black men in the 17-19th centuries.
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By Sable on April 3, 2014
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This was a gift. The person absolutely loved it and is looking for more books by this author. They said the information was very well written.
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Got it for a psych class. Read it and pay attention. Be honest with yourself and think when you read it.
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The book does absolutely make one think (or better--realize) that the 'Old Days' were not necessarily the 'Best Days.'
As I was reading the book, I could not help but think of color as being 'everything.'
Considering that the 'white' skin was an item of power for the woman, it is indeed fascinating as to what would motivate the white women described in the book to love a 'negro' man. Especially, if that 'negro' man was a slave. I would like to believe the white 'ladies' (yes, I use that word) knew what the 'position' the man held in society. And I would like to believe the ladies knew what 'position' she would now hold in society. Thus, some of the tragic events described in the book.

I did like the chronological flow of the book and the reference back to earlier times as was warranted when coming to the end of the nineteenth century (nearly modern times).

Of course, a subject like this would have to be absolutely rigorously researched. And, it does appear that Ms. Hodes really did her job in that respect.

I will admit to being surprised that it was not until the immediate run-up and after the Civil War that 'automatic' murder/lynching of black men occrred with impunity. I had thought that there was 'automatic' lynching of any black man that 'knew' a white woman.

It is too bad that we do not have a fuller record of the 'voiceless' men.

As I was reading the book and referring to the notes, I could not help but think just kind of courage it took to cross color 'lines.'
No matter what, it does seem that sex, lust, and love (the order is deliberate) is just something that cannot be legislated, beat, or murdered away.

Reading the book certainly had me thinking about what 'freedom' means.
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