23 May 16

Brenda E. Stevenson’s lecture “Performing Social Status in Slavery and Freedom: Southern Black Marriage Rituals, 1840-1900” explores antebellum slave marriage rites/rights in contrast to some of the ways in which the first generation(s) of freedmen and women interpreted and experienced their emancipation in marital ritual, performance, and celebration during the last decades of the nineteenth century. The South, she notes, as enslaved people had known it during the antebellum era, was profoundly changed after 1865 and the region’s Civil War defeat. The end to the war brought general emancipation for four million people and, with it, their legal right to claim marital relations, control over the intimate aspects of their bodies, and to bear, take care of, socialize and maintain their children. Hundreds of thousands of couples who had been married while enslaved, or wanted to marry after slavery ended, did not hesitate to participate in public nuptials. To do so drew a line between slavery and freedom.