The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 100, July 1996 - April, 1997 Page: 66
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
and letters by African Americans, the study of rural African American
family history has depended largely on census statistics." The courtship
letters of Calvin Rhone and Lucia Knotts thus provide a rare opportuni-
ty to see how one African American couple negotiated their gender
roles before marriage, and how these roles both confirmed and chal-
lenged white society's feminine ideal. Although their correspondence
does not provide enough evidence to generalize about black rural mid-
dle-class courtship patterns and customs, their letters serve as a case
study of how one African American couple loved and courted in 188os
Recently, critics have begun to look more closely at nineteenth-centu-
ry black middle-class culture. For example, in her book The Coupling
Convention: Sex, Text, and Tradition in Black Women's Fiction, Anne duCille
examines nineteenth-century African American authors who adopted
popular middle-class forms, such as the marriage-plot novel. Willard
Gatewood studies the upper- and middle-class African American com-
munities in his book, Aristocrats of Color: The Black Elite z88o-z92o.4 Both
works reveal the unique dichotomy of race and class that middle-class
African Americans faced in the nineteenth century in their quest for
race uplift. Gatewood shows how blacks created a community that resist-
ed white cultural domination by remaking white American middle-class
customs. DuCille demonstrates how African American writers subverted
Anglo literary forms to make a literature of their own.
An exploration of the complex ways that race, class, and gender inter-
sect in the courtship correspondence of Calvin Rhone and Lucia Knotts
demonstrates a similar type of resistance. Their words and actions can
be seen as both reflections of and resistance to the larger society's con-
ception of gender. This essay will place Lucia Knotts and Calvin Rhone's
conflict over gender roles in the context of white middle-class culture's
ongoing discussion of the division between private and public spheres in
the nineteenth century, and it will demonstrate how a cultural concep-
tion of gender, such as the "cult of true womanhood," crossed race lines
and transformed itself in the process.
Like most nineteenth-century African Americans, Calvin Rhone and
Lucia Knotts both came from rural southern families. Lucia Knotts was
born'in Texas in 1866, although her parents came from Georgia. There
were ten children in her family, all of whom were born in Texas after
' Herbert G. Gutman, The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, 1750-1925 (New York: Pan-
theon Books, 1976).
' Ann duCille, The Couplhng Convention. Sex, Text, and Tradition in Black Women's Fiction (New
York. Oxford University Press, 1993), Willard B. Gatewood, Anrtoctats of Color. The Black Elite,
188o-192o (Bloomington. Indiana University Press, 1990)
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 100, July 1996 - April, 1997, periodical, 1997; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101218/m1/94/: accessed July 21, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.