reFraming: Dramatic Narratives of African American Female Landowners in Alabama’s Black Belt

Allison Upshaw

Assistant Professor of Music, Stillman College

Editor’s Note:

We are highlighting scholarship that will be featured at the RWSA 15th Triennial conference in Jonesboro, Arkansas, USA, May 15-19, 2024.

The narrative of African American, southern women is often one of submission, subservience, and victimization. However, the author herself is a third-generation landowner.  An examination of the researcher’s own matriarchal lineage inspired this project. Family interviews say that after the slave owner was killed in the Civil War, his sister freed the slaves and divided the land amongst them. Dr. Upshaw’s grandmother, Clara Mae Lewis Adams, was the only child of Henry Lewis, the son of a freed slave. The family land was considered part of heir property and was not individually recognized until the early 1990’s. At this time the heirs came together and legally divided the land, receiving deeds to specific plots. Clara Adams’ deed was passed down to Alice Adams Upshaw upon her death, and is now entrusted to the care of Allison Upshaw. Clara Adams worked as a domestic and only attended school until the third grade. How was she able to maintain ownership of the property when women nor Blacks were legally allowed to own land? How did an entire Black community manage to keep land during Reconstruction and in the Jim Crow South? 

This conference presentation is an ethnographic storying of Black, female, landowners in Alabama’s Black Belt. The author braids together information from public records, interviews, creative nonfiction, as well as cultural and community narratives to dramatically portray these women’s lives.

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