Dead and Living Connections: The Evolution of Sexuality in the Alabama Black Belt, 1730–1916

Saturday, January 5, 2013: 9:00 AM
Balcony I (New Orleans Marriott)
Charles Allen Wallace, College of William and Mary
My paper will examine the evolution of sexuality in the Black Belt vicinity of Eutaw, Alabama between 1730, when the area was first settled by European deerskin/gun traders, and 1916, the year Mary Amelia Leavelle was born. For Mary Amelia’s sexuality was intertwined with a culturally layered place whose sexual mores were never static. Put another way, my paper will analyze sexuality in the weighty context of Time’s Arrow: several cultures had evolved in the Black Belt landscape across the colonial and antebellum eras—from the time when the Choctaws ruled the Eutaw landscape, across the days of the Cotton Kingdom, and into the (Re) construction of the New South. Indeed, Amelia worked the cornfields like her Creek and Choctaw ancestors (particularly the women) had, spoke in African American dialect, learned from her African American family members and sharecroppers, and inhabited a world of spirits produced both by her participation in church and by her participation in the telling of ‘haint’ stories (ghost stories shared by African- and Euro Americans in the Deep South). She used racist language like her Confederate ancestors had, treating African Americans—aside from her kin—as inferiors, as if to angrily turn the bigotry she experienced (with regards to her sexuality) on another group. Scholars of southern sexuality have missed the deep connections between Native American, African American, and European (and Euro American) sexual mores across time. By illuminating the rich cultural interconnection and cross-cultural influence that occurred in the Black Belt across time, my paper will reveal the world(s) of which Mary Amelia was a creation so that historians can develop a greater understanding of the world she—and others like her—worked to create.
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