Sam Watts

Sam Watts (PhD in History, 2022) ‘No Masters But Ourselves: Black Reconstruction in the Deep South City’

The destruction of slavery brought about dramatic opportunities and challenges for formerly enslaved Black Southerners, many of whom migrated to Southern cities in search of safety and freedom following the Civil War. During Reconstruction, the Deep South city offered economic, social and political opportunities that rural life could not, and it was in the city that Black Southerners were able to assert themselves in public and private spaces. These assertions of Black power and Black identity varied from seemingly minor interactions on the sidewalk, in the workplace or at school, to street celebrations, protests, strikes and pitched battles. Through an examination of Black daily life and the constant threat of white violence during this period, this thesis demonstrates how Black Southerners asserted radical ideas of Black power and freedom in the city space. Despite the relative freedom that urban life offered, white racial violence and brutality remained a constant – making the achievements of Black men, women and children in this period all the more extraordinary. It is through these – often temporary – achievements, that one can see the radical potential of Black Reconstruction to revise the foundations and future of the American republic, to an extent that was not then and has not now been fully realized.

Supervisors: Associate Professor Kat Ellinghaus (now, La Trobe University), Dr Julia Bowes (Hansen Lecturer in US History).