College of Charleston bursary awarded to Sam Watts

History PhD student Sam Watts has been awarded a travel grant by the College of Charleston’s Carolina Low Country and Atlantic World program.

The grant will support Sam’s participation in the conference "Freedoms Gained and Lost: Reconstruction in the Atlantic World", in Charleston, South Carolina, in March 2018. At the conference Sam will be presenting a paper on "Reconstruction Justice: African American Police Officers and the Politics of Urban Space in Charleston and New Orleans".


At once intimate and public, the daily experiences of men and women on the Reconstruction streetscape highlight the meaningful everyday consequences of America’s second revolution. While historians of the Jim Crow South have highlighted how the street was a site of racial negotiation for African Americans, less attention has been paid to how the politics of this space was performed during Reconstruction.

Despite being separated by distinct cultures and colonial history, Reconstruction era Charleston and New Orleans share much in this regard. In both cities, public urban space and the right to mobility were fiercely contested by African Americans, as markers of their newly attained freedom and citizenship. In both cities, African Americans served for extensive periods as police officers, enforcing justice and protecting civilians according to the radical principle of equality under the law. The physical presence of black police officers on the streets had both immediate and symbolic implications for how race, citizenship and urban space were understood in the context of Reconstruction. Replacing slave badges with police badges, many freedmen in Charleston and New Orleans asserted autonomy over their local environment through the administration of law and order, radically reshaping the streetscape experience. Analysing these officers through the framework of space and mobility, this paper suggests both a new way of understanding black police officers during Reconstruction and black urban experiences of this period.

For more information please see the 2018 Conference “Freedoms Gained and Lost: Reinterpreting Reconstruction in the Atlantic World” web page.