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In-between Southerners: European immigrants and racial violence in Brazos County, Texas
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Five black men died in Brazos County, Texas, in a series of violent racial incidents in 1896, 1897, and 1900-01. At first glance, nothing seemed exceptional about their deaths. The causes were unremarkable: each of the three episodes was sparked by an alleged assault of a white woman or a respected public official. Furthermore, there was nothing extraordinary about the resulting lynchings and legal execution. They were closely similar to others occuring regularly across the South and seemed to follow a standard script. Nonetheless, a curious twist marked each episode. In each case, European immigrants of different nationalities - first Italian, then Irish, and finally Bohemian -- helped to instigate the violence and played major roles in launching a series of events that culminated in death. Why were these Europeans present in what was by then essentially a Southern racial narrative, and what did they stand to gain? Racial identity and the privileges of whiteness explain the presence of these immigrants in each of the three stories. The racial status of America's foreign-born immigrants was highly ambiguous at the end of the nineteenth century. That uncertainty was acute in the highly racialized South, where eastern and southern European immigrants seemed neither white nor black, but somewhere in between. In the end, Brazos County's European immigrants helped to settle the question themselves by doing what southern white people did, and in some ways, by doing it better. Their in-between racial status enabled these immigrants initially to acquire property and wealth that was generally denied to blacks, and it enabled them to vote and to exercise some degree of political strength. The fastest way to establish whiteness, however, was through violent racial oppression, a method that a number of immigrants did not shun. By participating in the legal and extralegal execution of black men, Brazos County's immigrant groups established their unquestioned whiteness and an insider status unattainable to African-Americans. As the twentieth century wore on, it became apparent that the real outsiders in Brazos County were not the foreign-born, but those who had always been on the outside, the African-Americans.
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Includes bibliographical references (leaves 165-171).
Issued also on microfiche from Lange Micrographics.
Nevels, Cynthia Margaret Skove (2003). In-between Southerners: European immigrants and racial violence in Brazos County, Texas. Master's thesis, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from
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