Lexington, Virginia • April 21, 2010
Sascha Goluboff, associate professor of cultural anthropology at Washington and Lee University, has received a Sabbatical Fellowship from the American Philosophical Society to fund the continuation of her scholarly research into religious and social landscape of African Americans in rural Southwest Virginia.
During the last three summers, Goluboff has conducted research into African-Americans in Rockbridge County who continue to live on land once purchased by their newly-freed ancestors and attend churches built by those same ancestors. "Because of the small number of African-Americans, the area provides strong generational linkages grounded in land and faith," she said.
Specifically, she is exploring the task of making "homeplace," which the writer Bell Hooks notes has been "about the construction of a safe place where black people could affirm one another and by doing so heal many wounds inflicted by racist domination."
Part of Goluboff's research entails participant observation at Sunday and special services at Asbury United Methodist Church and interviewing congregants. "But I want to go a little bit further," she said, "and do some interviews, not just about their spirituality or their faith, but also about their experience of living in the area and their family land."
The other part of her research will be examining various historical documents.
County stores, where blacks and whites frequently interacted, have boxes of receipts and written materials ranging from approximately 1910 to 1950. Local newspapers from the 1830s to the 1970s also have articles dealing with black-white relations before and after emancipation.
The Rockbridge and Augusta County Courthouses have deeds, tax records, wills, birth, death and marriage records, and chancery cases. Goluboff also plans to use the United States Census and the annals of New Providence Presbyterian Church, to help her reconstruct kinship and employment networks, which Goluboff said record "misconduct" by slaves and recently freed black parishioners that show complicated loyalties and passions.
In addition to the churches, Goluboff will focus on particular sites of African-American family "homeplaces" that still remain today. In particular she will examine the deeds and family letters of a homes built by emancipated slaves that stayed in the family. "I've also found some personal collections of letters from important Irish-American families in the area from the Civil War and after, that talk about the relationships they had with their black workers," she said.
"I'm really interested in the entanglements between the two communities," she explained. "How African-Americans and whites had to rely on each other to get by, but also the ways in which both races resisted that.
"My research so far has already given me a sense of the emotional, material and spiritual importance of family land and church," she said. "This new grant will help me trace relationships and property within African-American families from slavery until the present day. It will put me in a unique position to find out how race relations have changed, and if we are building, as some political pundits claim, a post-racial society."
Since 1998, the American Philosophical Society has conducted a program of fellowships in the humanities and social sciences, generously supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which is designed to supplement an awarded sabbatical/research leave. It has awarded more than 220 fellowships in this 12-year period.