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Black Litigants in the Antebellum American South$
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Kimberly M. Welch

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781469636436

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469636436.001.0001

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For Family and Property

For Family and Property

(p.193) 7 For Family and Property
Black Litigants in the Antebellum American South

Kimberly M. Welch

University of North Carolina Press

When using the courts to protect their family, people of color relied on and deployed a well-used model for litigation and claims-making—a model set by fellow black litigants. This model included several tactics for appealing to the bar: they exploited the language of property and law, rhetoric that was recognizable to their audiences and thus usable and effective. They found ways to make others accountable to them: with their stories and reputations and through their networks. They bound people in relationships of obligation to them—bonds that sometimes upended the southern racial hierarchy. They used property ownership and its associated presumptions about independence and reliability to make their claims and to legitimize and safeguard their families. In so doing, they served as their own advocates, registered their voices in an official, public forum, and laid claim to civic inclusion. This chapter examines how well the model worked. It follows the formation of one family from Iberville Parish, the Belly family, and their efforts to form a family before the law and through property ownership.

Keywords:   Free Blacks, Family, Property, Courts, Personhood

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