Elevate Difference

Terror in the Heart of Freedom: Citizenship, Sexual Violence, and the Meaning of Race in the Postemancipation South

Hannah Rosen's Terror in the Heart of Freedom is an essential historical document. This text is a detailed analysis of the connection between gendered rhetoric, sexual violence, and the oppression and resistance of freed people during the reconstruction era. Rosen demonstrates a thorough understanding of gender, race, and power dynamics and how these issues are employed through politics on different levels.

Terror in the Heart of Freedom  is not light reading. The subject matter is intense and often disturbing considering the brutal gendered and racial violence that occurred during the reconstruction in the United States. Rosen builds a virtual theatre for these events, illustrating the antebellum attitudes of many whites, the social and political situation of southern urban areas after the civil war, and the radical reclamation of public space by Black citizens at this time. The extreme discomfort that White people felt during this Black reclamation of space was palpable, and the violence that ensued was a reassertion of power on the part of White men. Hannah Rosen extrapolates on these events, displaying White men's recreation of a racist rhetoric that was used to oppress the newly freed population, and explores how much of this rhetoric was, in fact, based in gender.

One of the most poignant points that Hannah Rosen makes is in noting the repercussions for Black women speaking out about the sexual violence they experienced during this turbulent time. Rosen extrapolates on this further, explaining that these women were not only articulating their experiences, but were reframing the common narratives of Black women's sexuality, while also claiming their space as women and citizens. Indeed, as Rosen points out, in this process, they also challenged the conventional way for women to handle sexual assault.

Aside from the implications of sexual assault during the reconstruction, Hannah Rosen very concisely handles the intricacies of federal versus local authority at this time. This is no easy task, as the actual written law, and the de facto law of the time were often so contradictory. Rosen leads the reader through these complications rather gracefully, not allowing them to snag on the details. The grit of policy is extremely relevant here, and aids in explaining the dynamics of this very specific social atmosphere.

At 384 pages, Terror in the Heart of Freedom has over 100 pages of notes and footnotes. The text stands out as a meticulously-researched, well-written, and, most of all, vital historical document. Hannah Rosen has written a detailed analysis of the convoluted relationships between power, rhetoric, race, and gender during what could have been a period of victory for equality in this country. Consider it necessary for your history reading list.

Written by: Kate Wadkins, April 3rd 2009

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