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Between 1880 and 1930, close to 200 women were murdered by lynch mobs in the American South. Many more were tarred and feathered, burned, whipped, or raped. In this brutal world of white supremacist politics and patriarchy, a world violently divided by race, gender, and class, black and white women defended themselves and challenged the male power brokers. Crystal Feimster Between 1880 and 1930, close to 200 women were murdered by lynch mobs in the American South. Many more were tarred and feathered, burned, whipped, or raped. In this brutal world of white supremacist politics and patriarchy, a world violently divided by race, gender, and class, black and white women defended themselves and challenged the male power brokers. Crystal Feimster breaks new ground in her story of the racial politics of the postbellum South by focusing on the volatile issue of sexual violence. Pairing the lives of two Southern women--Ida B. Wells, who fearlessly branded lynching a white tool of political terror against southern blacks, and Rebecca Latimer Felton, who urged white men to prove their manhood by lynching black men accused of raping white women--Feimster makes visible the ways in which black and white women sought protection and political power in the New South. While Wells was black and Felton was white, both were journalists, temperance women, suffragists, and anti-rape activists. By placing their concerns at the center of southern politics, Feimster illuminates a critical and novel aspect of southern racial and sexual dynamics. Despite being on opposite sides of the lynching question, both Wells and Felton sought protection from sexual violence and political empowerment for women. "Southern Horrors" provides a startling view into the Jim Crow South where the precarious and subordinate position of women linked black and white anti-rape activists together in fragile political alliances. It is a story that reveals how the complex drama of political power, race, and sex played out in the lives of Southern women.


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Between 1880 and 1930, close to 200 women were murdered by lynch mobs in the American South. Many more were tarred and feathered, burned, whipped, or raped. In this brutal world of white supremacist politics and patriarchy, a world violently divided by race, gender, and class, black and white women defended themselves and challenged the male power brokers. Crystal Feimster Between 1880 and 1930, close to 200 women were murdered by lynch mobs in the American South. Many more were tarred and feathered, burned, whipped, or raped. In this brutal world of white supremacist politics and patriarchy, a world violently divided by race, gender, and class, black and white women defended themselves and challenged the male power brokers. Crystal Feimster breaks new ground in her story of the racial politics of the postbellum South by focusing on the volatile issue of sexual violence. Pairing the lives of two Southern women--Ida B. Wells, who fearlessly branded lynching a white tool of political terror against southern blacks, and Rebecca Latimer Felton, who urged white men to prove their manhood by lynching black men accused of raping white women--Feimster makes visible the ways in which black and white women sought protection and political power in the New South. While Wells was black and Felton was white, both were journalists, temperance women, suffragists, and anti-rape activists. By placing their concerns at the center of southern politics, Feimster illuminates a critical and novel aspect of southern racial and sexual dynamics. Despite being on opposite sides of the lynching question, both Wells and Felton sought protection from sexual violence and political empowerment for women. "Southern Horrors" provides a startling view into the Jim Crow South where the precarious and subordinate position of women linked black and white anti-rape activists together in fragile political alliances. It is a story that reveals how the complex drama of political power, race, and sex played out in the lives of Southern women.

30 review for Southern Horrors: Women and the Politics of Rape and Lynching

  1. 5 out of 5

    Koritha Mitchell

    Southern Horrors is an engrossing history of women's activism in the United States. Using the lives of white southerner Rebecca Latimer Felton and black antilynching crusader Ida B. Wells as lenses, Feimster shows how our nation's "color line" has influenced women's political choices. Feimster demonstrates, for example, how white women in the South were empowered by pro-lynching rhetoric because it gave them ways to justify their political work, which would have otherwise been seen as inappropri Southern Horrors is an engrossing history of women's activism in the United States. Using the lives of white southerner Rebecca Latimer Felton and black antilynching crusader Ida B. Wells as lenses, Feimster shows how our nation's "color line" has influenced women's political choices. Feimster demonstrates, for example, how white women in the South were empowered by pro-lynching rhetoric because it gave them ways to justify their political work, which would have otherwise been seen as inappropriate (not lady-like). Feimster also provides the most complete account of the history of the lynching of women—black and white—available. But she does not simply offer information. Her analysis addresses the intersections of race, gender, and class in ways that can help us understand the troubling similarities between the historical moment that she examines and our own. Feimster's research is impeccable, but the book is also clear and easy-to-read. Those not interested in the footnotes will enjoy it and learn much. I read the book from cover to cover. By the time I reached the end, I was struck by how much of a tribute the last chapter (especially) is to Ida B. Wells and all that she did to change national assumptions about racial violence. Feimster's awareness of the sacrifices made by previous generations of women informs the entire study, and you can feel it with the care of not only the research but also the precision of the prose. A truly compelling study. A fabulous example of what scholarly books can be.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Elevate Difference

    Southern Horrors explores the racial and sexual politics of the Post Civil War South predominantly through the political writings, speeches, and lives of two prominent female figures of the era. Feimster describes the period through Rebecca Latimer Felton, a white woman from the stately plantation class, educated and raised during antebellum south, and Ida B. Wells, a the daughter of former slaves, raised during the reconstruction era. The author begins by describing the two women’s origins and h Southern Horrors explores the racial and sexual politics of the Post Civil War South predominantly through the political writings, speeches, and lives of two prominent female figures of the era. Feimster describes the period through Rebecca Latimer Felton, a white woman from the stately plantation class, educated and raised during antebellum south, and Ida B. Wells, a the daughter of former slaves, raised during the reconstruction era. The author begins by describing the two women’s origins and how they came to rally around the issues of rape and women’s protection. “Protection”, in this context, is what would be, in modern times, included in the definition of women’s suffrage. It was a push for women to obtain the right to own property, have a bank account, inherit estates, and seek justice for wrongdoings or violence done against them. Both Felton and Wells were revolutionary in their own ways, challenging and breaking through the gender norms and expectations of the era. However, their experiences were staunchly different and in many ways based solely upon their racial identities. I found it intriguing that Feimster chose to follow both a white woman and a black woman to describe the sexual and gender violence embedded in early twentieth century politics. The strategy definitely helped to paint the entire picture of the conflicting struggles of the Southern reconstruction. On the one hand, there was a push to preserve traditional Southern norms; on the other, pressure from the black community for inclusion and equality. Both women were particularly fascinating, especially in their approaches and ideologies. Wells highlighted that the threat of rape and sexual assault was used as a tool of control, a justification of violence against women, and a way to maintain white male supremacist power. She was a radical voice and decades ahead of her time; her ideas were characteristic of activists of the women's movement in the United States in the 1960s. Felton started her political career by advocating for rights and protection for all women, regardless of race or class, but later completely switched her views to better appeal to the male audiences and supporters. My initial reaction to Felton’s shift in politics was outrage. I was terribly disappointed, though not surprised, in her neglect and discarding of black women’s issues. I saw a parallel of second wave feminist activism and marginalization of women of color in Felton’s shift. Her lack of conviction was frustrating and left me wondering how history may have been altered if she had held true. The text also discusses more general ideas of Southern white masculinity, black masculinity, the convict leasing system, the politics behind lynching, and both women’s involvement in and victimization of lynching. I admire and respect the way in which Feimster presented the two women. Her analysis of the events was critical and highly thought provoking, and I often found myself sitting lost in thought after finishing a chapter. While not a leisurely read, it was enjoyable overall. There was quite a bit of material to process and think about, and I often found myself wishing I had someone to discuss it with. While it is relatively easy to find people to discuss the issues of race and class in the South in general terms, to really engage in the material presented proved more difficult. This book would be an excellent basis of discussion on early women’s movement and the intersections of race, class, and sexuality. It also presents many hidden histories of the South, which can be shocking and intense at times. Review by Liz Martin

  3. 5 out of 5

    Iejones

    An excellent portrayal of feminist activism along racial lines. The punishment of lynching is vindication for one and victimization for another. The issue of race between feminist movements is an understated problem in America - this work begins to question the nature of who and woman type of womanhood is the American ideal and why those persons of color who do not "fit" the ideal are relegated to the periphery and candidates for extermination. An excellent portrayal of feminist activism along racial lines. The punishment of lynching is vindication for one and victimization for another. The issue of race between feminist movements is an understated problem in America - this work begins to question the nature of who and woman type of womanhood is the American ideal and why those persons of color who do not "fit" the ideal are relegated to the periphery and candidates for extermination.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Atif Taj

    The life of first women senator Felton, even for a day, and Ida Be Wells was described in the intruenental and barbaric history of rape and lynching. Felton - a white woman - displayed the similar attitude common in today’s white woman. A racist and bigoted one towards people of not if its own race. She could see rape but her ideas evolved while being reversed as long as it syncs with current societal behavior. Ida B Wells was unsuccessful in legislating anti lynching in her life but her life lo The life of first women senator Felton, even for a day, and Ida Be Wells was described in the intruenental and barbaric history of rape and lynching. Felton - a white woman - displayed the similar attitude common in today’s white woman. A racist and bigoted one towards people of not if its own race. She could see rape but her ideas evolved while being reversed as long as it syncs with current societal behavior. Ida B Wells was unsuccessful in legislating anti lynching in her life but her life long struggle bore fruit almost seventy years after her death along with apology from senate floor. Salute to her!!!!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    Read for my us women's history class, and overall really enjoyed it. It's certainly a very depressing topic, but I liked how Feimster approached it by comparing the careers and views of Ida B. Wells and Rebecca Felton. If you're interested in an overlooked area of American history, I'd highly recommend this book--very well written and researched. Read for my us women's history class, and overall really enjoyed it. It's certainly a very depressing topic, but I liked how Feimster approached it by comparing the careers and views of Ida B. Wells and Rebecca Felton. If you're interested in an overlooked area of American history, I'd highly recommend this book--very well written and researched.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Madeline

    The material in Southern Horrors is heavy, but the book itself isn't. I don't mean that it downplays the injustices it describes or fails to acknowledge the horror of lynching, but that Feimster handles information with expertise. More than anything else, she imparts information. The information speaks for itself, most of the time, and her interventions are insightful and interesting. I guess I should also say that the subtitle is doing a lot of heavy-lifting: this isn't a book about lynching or The material in Southern Horrors is heavy, but the book itself isn't. I don't mean that it downplays the injustices it describes or fails to acknowledge the horror of lynching, but that Feimster handles information with expertise. More than anything else, she imparts information. The information speaks for itself, most of the time, and her interventions are insightful and interesting. I guess I should also say that the subtitle is doing a lot of heavy-lifting: this isn't a book about lynching or rape exactly, but about the way Ida Wells-Barnett and Rebecca Felton represented and shaped the discussion of rape and lynching in the political sphere. It was an immensely interesting read and I was impressed at how deftly Feimster handled the topic.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Andi Marquette

    Feimster is a professor of history at Yale and fortunately for us, she chose that route instead of the legal profession (which she had been interested in when she entered college) because what books like hers force us to examine are the intersections of race, gender, class, and the use of rape as a tool of oppression. "Southern Horrors" takes its name from civil rights and anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells-Barnett, and her 1892 anti-lynching pamphlet, "Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Pha Feimster is a professor of history at Yale and fortunately for us, she chose that route instead of the legal profession (which she had been interested in when she entered college) because what books like hers force us to examine are the intersections of race, gender, class, and the use of rape as a tool of oppression. "Southern Horrors" takes its name from civil rights and anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells-Barnett, and her 1892 anti-lynching pamphlet, "Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases." Then, Wells-Barnett was trying to shed light on the numerous and horrific lynchings that whites perpetrated on African Americans during the Jim Crow era. Over a hundred years later, Feimster sheds more light not only on the lynchings of that era, but on white men who used sexual violence against African American women. What Feimster does in her book is take the reader on an activist journey through the eyes of two different women. One, a southern white woman who lived through the Civil War and became a women's rights advocate and the other an African American woman who came of age during Reconstruction and Jim Crow and became a civil rights and anti-lynching activist. Rebecca Latimer Felton was the white woman, and Ida B. Wells (later Wells-Barnett) was the African American woman. What the reader gets here is a superb analysis of lynching using the vehicle of women's rights, and a fascinating dual biography of two very different women who nevertheless recognized the gendered nature of the sexual violence enacted throughout the South prior to and after the Civil War. Felton would remain racist, but she nevertheless recognized how African American women were brutalized at the hands of white men, and she and Wells both understood that at the root of the violence against African Americans lurked issues over sex, sexuality, race, and gender. Through excellent documentation and a smooth, unobtrusive narrative voice, Feimster reveals a toxic and complex intermingling of ideologies and behaviors that created horrific violence against African Americans and their few white supporters that still echoes in this country. It's a brutal and horrible chapter in American history, but it's one that we all have a responsibility to learn and hopefully, use to forge a better future for all.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jason S

    Very well written book that at times is really more a duel biography of Ida Wells and Rebecca Felton that comes back together at the end. Overall some very impactful chapters about the sexual nature of lynching.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jen Well-Steered

    Definitely not a fun summer beach read kind of book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Soap

    This book was absolutely fantastic and I feel like I learned so much about this time period, something that I think a lot of people fail to talk about or mention when they talk about the Jim Crow laws of the 19th century and the race riots. Women get excluded from the conversation a LOT, and I think reading about the trials and tribulations of two very different women with very different perspectives on how to solve the gender and race violence was really fascinating. I wrote a research paper la This book was absolutely fantastic and I feel like I learned so much about this time period, something that I think a lot of people fail to talk about or mention when they talk about the Jim Crow laws of the 19th century and the race riots. Women get excluded from the conversation a LOT, and I think reading about the trials and tribulations of two very different women with very different perspectives on how to solve the gender and race violence was really fascinating. I wrote a research paper last semester on the National Women's Party and their deliberate historic exclusion of black women from their political endeavors, and I think this book shines even more light on the problematic history that white and black women have had with one another, particularly because of Felton. I started off the book really liking Felton and felt as though she was going to be a strong player in this battle (I didn't know much about her to begin with), but as I was reading, I found myself continually disappointed that she changed her argument a multitude of times in order to appease the Democratic party rather than doing what she felt was right and making sure to argue on behalf of the protection of all women, regardless of race. It is still very sad to me that we don't have any legislation in place acknowledging the harmful and destructive practices of lynching and paying reparations for these acts. Especially because I know Kamala Harris and Corey Booker recently tried to champion another one of these bills that was shot down within the last year or two. In the summed-up words of Feimster, even though a lot of things have changed over the years, it seems as though there are still some things unwilling to change.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Elijah

    Sort of a dual biography of Ida B. Wells and first female senator Rebecca Latimer Felton— but perhaps even more so the "biography" of the women's club movement and the beginnings of women's politics in the United States. Feimster handles the complicated material sensitively, particularly Felton's complicated and sometimes-contradictory politics— always a white supremacist and yet vacillating between criticising white men and wishing to extend protection to poor white and black women, and throwin Sort of a dual biography of Ida B. Wells and first female senator Rebecca Latimer Felton— but perhaps even more so the "biography" of the women's club movement and the beginnings of women's politics in the United States. Feimster handles the complicated material sensitively, particularly Felton's complicated and sometimes-contradictory politics— always a white supremacist and yet vacillating between criticising white men and wishing to extend protection to poor white and black women, and throwing her lot in with white men to increase the political power of white women. It sheds a lot of light on the racial and sexual politics of Reconstruction through the early 20th century in the American south. I'd very much like to follow up on and learn more about the female lynching victims, white and black, and the pervasive climate of violence against women at this time (perpetrated mostly by white men). It provides some in sight, as well, into the ways white women operated in a world which simultaneously did them incredible violence and strictly controlled their behavior, and yet also offered them more power than they'd ever had before. The subject matter is heavy and sometimes disturbing, but the book itself is deftly written and not at all the depressing slog I worried it might be at first.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Brittany Anne

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kelsey Kearns

  14. 5 out of 5

    Destiney Linker

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kenna McKee

  16. 5 out of 5

    Philip

  17. 4 out of 5

    Bryan

  18. 5 out of 5

    Morgan Lensing

  19. 4 out of 5

    Shaun Henderson

  20. 4 out of 5

    Dean

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kathe

  22. 5 out of 5

    Miriam Lyons

  23. 5 out of 5

    Tameka Bradley Hobbs

  24. 5 out of 5

    Elena

  25. 4 out of 5

    James N

  26. 4 out of 5

    Anna

  27. 5 out of 5

    Shelby

  28. 5 out of 5

    Alok Vaid-Menon

  29. 4 out of 5

    Tara Busch

  30. 5 out of 5

    Adair

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