Survival depended on the familyís reputation in the community. A personís family role was a major component in his or her identity. Before the Civil War, women had large families with about twelve or thirteen children. But after the war, the amount of children decreased to about six to eight children because of small farming and new industry. Responsibility in these families was mostly based on gender.

    Families were usually large and extended, so there was family to provide care and shelter to those who needed it. Extended family members took in widows and orphans. Children were influenced exclusively by family members, reinforcing family values, religion and traditions. No matter what a personís social standing or individual accomplishments, he or she could count on economic security and emotional satisfaction simply by being a family member.

    Children were highly valued in the South. Southerners didnít believe, as Northerners did, that children were liable to evil ways if not strictly disciplined. On plantations, black children often played with white children until the age of 10, when both race and gender lines were drawn. The parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles raised the children.  Children went to school during parts of the year when farming wasnít good such as during the winter.

    In white families, regardless of class, traditional families had clearly defined roles. The husband /father was to take care of and provide for the family. He also was in charge of making major decisions affecting the family and keeping the familyís honor. He hunted and worked the fields. The wife/mother was responsible for household chores and childcare. Older family members helped with the childcare and small household chores. The children were responsible for gender-appropriate chores. Until the Great Depression, families knew children as an economic asset.


    Family honor was a big deal back then. So big they turned it into a code. This code allowed certain things to happen without punishment. It made what we today consider abuse, legal. Victims of serious abuse like sexual molestation were prevented from stopping or removing themselves from the situation because of the family honor. Many things led to molestation, such as the isolation of living on a farm with limited transportation and the privacy from neighbors.

    The Southern family structure began to change after the Civil War. Emancipation allowed black families to live together as white families did and in large part they followed the roles established by the white families. One notable difference was that although black husbands and fathers took on the responsibility of chief breadwinners and protectors, the households were not nearly as male-dominated as those of whites. Another early difference was that whites would work on their own and work their own farm, whereas blacks would more commonly be tenants or share croppers.

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