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Author ORCID Identifier



Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Afro-American Studies

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

John H. Bracey

Second Advisor

James Smethurst

Third Advisor

Agustin Lao-Montes

Fourth Advisor

John Higginson

Subject Categories

African American Studies | Genealogy | Social History


Post-Civil War historiography paid minimal attention to the rural Afro-American impact on Southern social, economic, and political institutions prior to the 20th century. This dissertation addresses this deficit. The Privilege of Blackness: Black Empowerment and the Fight for Liberation examines how Afro-Americans in rural Mississippi empowered themselves via their mentality, interracial interactions, landownership, labor diversification, education and suffrage as a means to fight for individual and racial liberation. The Privilege of Blackness: Black Empowerment and the Fight for Liberation in Attala County, Mississippi 1865-1915 makes the claim that freedom grounded Afro-American peoples claim to their inalienable rights guaranteed by the Declaration of Independence and fortified by the United States Constitution. The fight for liberation, to regain once lost freedoms and establish new freedoms, not only challenged post-Civil War Southern racial ideology but also shaped its socio-economic and political landscape for the remainder of the 19th century and impacted the 20th century burgeoning civil rights movement. Emerging from slavery, Afro-Americans entered into a period of construction rather than reconstruction. The former slave was not attempting to reconstruct slavery. Instead, they constructed the foundations on which empowerment could translate into generational liberation. Using an extensive case study of Attala County, Mississippi’s centermost county, the research details the history of Afro-American life from 1865 to 1915 to analyze the ways in which Afro-American activity created opportunities for their continued progression and freedom from their oppressors’ mental and physical attempts of continued subjugation. Attala County represents one county (and possibly more) where Afro-Americans demonstrated not survival techniques but their willingness to battle former and potential masters to obtain freedoms promised to all American citizens. The focus on the individual collective provides a more nuanced understanding of the role that Afro-Americans played in individual and group advancement prior the development of national political organizations.