Black girls coming of age: Sexuality and segregation in New Orleans, 1930-1954

Simmons, Lakisha Michelle.   University of Michigan ProQuest Dissertations Publishing,  2009. 3392836.

Abstract (summary)

This dissertation explores sexuality in the lives of African American girls living in New Orleans during the late Jim Crow period. I investigate interracial sexual violence, which many black girls experienced and most feared. I also explore sexual mores and how girls negotiated between the pressures to live up to standards of purity with simultaneous racist representations of black women and girls as sexually promiscuous. And finally, I explore experiences of intimacy and love in black girls' lives. I argue that black girls in segregated New Orleans faced a double bind—on one side was the reality of Jim Crow violence; on the other, middle-class African Americans' expectations of purity and respectability.

This project makes three main historiographical contributions. First, by centering the lives of black girls, my work uncovers the gendered violence of segregation. By considering a wide range of archival sources—including court documents, newspaper reports, police records, and delinquency home records—I make black female lives and suffering visible, and expose the links between segregation, sexuality and sexism. Second, the dissertation unearths the emotional violence of living in a legal and public culture that treated blacks as second class citizens. Such a project is crucial for uncovering not only the trauma of racial violence, but also for understanding the legacy of that violence today. Drawing on a close reading of social workers' reports, sociologists' interviews with children during the period, black girls' writing, photographs, and oral history interviews with women who grew up in New Orleans allows me to approach the elusive inner worlds of black girls. Third, this dissertation broadens understandings of urban histories of race relations by connecting methods from social history, cultural geography and cultural history—in order to reformulate how we think about a Jim Crow city. I argue that black girls' notion of self was highly dependent on their place in the urban geography. Overall, I seek to understand how segregation disciplined black girls' bodies at the same time that black girls carved out spaces of intimacy and pleasure in the face of racialized constraints.

Indexing (details)

Black history;
American history;
Womens studies;
African American studies
0296: African American Studies
0328: Black history
0337: American history
0453: Womens studies
Identifier / keyword
Social sciences; African-American; Black girls; Girls; Jim Crow; Louisiana; New Orleans; Segregation; Sexuality; Women
Black girls coming of age: Sexuality and segregation in New Orleans, 1930-1954
Simmons, Lakisha Michelle
Number of pages
Degree date
School code
DAI-A 71/01, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
Rosen, Hannah; Mitchell, Michele
University of Michigan
University location
United States -- Michigan
Source type
Dissertation or Thesis
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL