Law and Everyday Life among Black Southerners
Author: Dylan C. Penningroth
This study focuses on husband-wife relations, the rise of the independent black church, migration, and the interaction between legal categories and popular conceptions such as respectability and race, examining local court records as both a source of information and a core subject of inquiry. The legal, social, and economic dimensions of people’s engagement with local courts in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are explored through three critical questions: how did ordinary people make popular, extra-legal notions fit into legal categories? How did people reconceptualize kinship—and its associated rights to property and labor—in times of massive social and economic change? What kinds of hierarchies and inequalities emerged within black families and communities during the first three generations after emancipation, and how were those inequalities contested? By focusing on cases where plaintiff and defendant were both black, the project seeks to shift emphasis beyond the traditional framework of black/white race relations, while exploring the specific, often contradictory roles that racial thinking played.