Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




In 1902, Virginia's revised constitution was proclaimed by the all-male, all-white delegates who had met in Richmond, the state capitol, for over a year. While they reviewed and revised the entire document, their main goal was to disfranchise black males. For the next seven decades, most black men, and, after 1920, black women found it difficult, if not impossible, to participate in the electoral process.;This dissertation looks at the effect of this event on blacks living in Hanover County, Virginia. Black Hanoverians steadily chipped away at the walls that enclosed them and limited their opportunities for success. First, they worked to determine their paths to freedom, and in doing so, set patterns of survival for their descendants. When their rights were being eroded, black Hanoverians, along with their compatriots in Richmond, deemphasized political involvement as the path to full citizenship and instead focused on self-help. Third, they responded to Jim Crow by fostering lives that ran parallel to those of whites. Fourth, in spite of the hardships of living in a racist system, black Hanoverians moved to play their part in overcoming the pressures placed on the country by the Depression and war. Finally, African Americans in Hanover drew on various traditions established by their ancestors to regain their civil rights.;In the end, black Hanoverians resisted the strictures of their "place" as defined by white people. Following Emancipation, the amendments to the federal Constitution, and the Reconstruction Acts, they had reason to believe that they would finally be accepted as citizens in the United States, a country that they and their ancestors had helped to build. They soon found that this would not be the case. Instead, they would have to seek citizenship via avenues of their own making. In the end, they have taught their descendants that citizenship asserts itself from within, and that it has proved to be something that no one can take away.



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