This week, I spent most of my time writing (and rewriting) the first chapter. Over the past few days, what started as merely setting the scene turned into a different argument entirely. Although there’s a lot left to do, I think the project is stronger for it.
After meeting with Prof. Pinsker and Prof. Burgin on Wednesday, I was thinking a lot about the concepts of success and failure in a movement such as this – although our conversations had revolved primarily around the relationship between statewide prohibition in 1907 and disenfranchisement in 1908, I was wondering how you might apply similar concepts to the 1880s. In particular, I began to think that what seems like a clear cut victory in 1885 and evident loss in 1887 might not actually be so obvious – especially if you believe that temperance wasn’t just about liquor alone.
Thompson had argued that the referendums as a whole ended in failure – exclusion from the 1886 municipal election, the increasingly intimate relationship between prohibition and white supremacy, and the culmination in race riots seemed like a convincing argument for tragedy. But while I’d noted in my previous historiographical analysis that Thompson had largely sidelined the role of African American women in campaigning, I hadn’t really considered whether the results would have felt as different as the process had. After all, as much as African American women would have liked to see the inclusion of black candidates in local elections, they would not have been able to vote for them. They wouldn’t have been terribly concerned with creating “a monument to your Christian manhood,” as was promised their male counterparts. Certainly, that’s not to say that the elevation of black men would not have been important to them – but on a personal level, that wasn’t what drove them into the temperance fight. In reconsidering the ‘means’ – filling in the women’s side of the campaign ignored by Thompson – I also wondered about the ‘ends,’ especially as I came across a number of female authored sources that seemed positively bursting with optimism for the 1890s, even after their supposed defeat.
My chapter ultimately argues that while African American men were utilizing prohibition to leverage political inclusion, women were doing so to lay claim to the social powers of traditional gendered norms – consequently, the electoral votes mattered less to success than the visible performance of the ideals of womanhood, motherhood, and faith. Thus while men saw their activism as a failure, women entered the 1890s renewed by their publically cultivated identity. It’s an interesting line of reasoning because it offers a parallel narrative to Thompson’s work on the 1880s while leading effectively into the discussion of the No. 2 Unions in Chapter 2. If I begin with the building of these gendered worlds, I set a useful foundation for understanding the kind of values Georgia Swift King or Selena Sloan Butler would have inherited. This optimism also makes a lot more sense in terms of King’s Forgotten Atlanta Compromise – the late 1880s through mid 1890s can then be seen as a gradual building of power that culminates in full-fledged visions of racial uplift and authority.