Notorious in the Neighborhood
Sex and Families Across the Color Line in Virginia, 1787-1861
"Laws and cultural norms militated against interracial sex in Virginia before the Civil War. Nonetheless, it was ubiquitous in urban, town, and plantation communities throughout the state. In Notorious in the Neighborhood, Joshua Rothman examines the full spectrum of interracial sexual relationships under slavery-from Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings, and the intertwined interracial families of Monticello and Charlottesville, to commercial sex in Richmond, the routinized sexual exploitation of enslaved women, and adultery across the color line.
White Virginians allowed for an astonishing degree of flexibility and fluidity within a seemingly rigid system of race and interracial relations, Rothman argues, and the relationship between law and custom regarding racial intermixture was always shifting. As a consequence, even as whites never questioned their own racial supremacy, the meaning and significance of racial boundaries, racial hierarchy, and ultimately of race itself always stood on unstable ground--a reality that whites understood and about which they demonstrated increasing anxiety as the sectional crisis intensified."
Joshua Rothman is Professor of History and African American Studies at the University of Alabama, where he is also Director of the Frances S. Summersell Center for the Study of the South.