SASN alumna Stephanie Jones-Rogers has just made history as the first African American and third woman to win the Los Angeles Times Book Award in History.
If that weren’t enough, Jones-Rogers also recently received the Organization of American Historians (OAH) prestigious 2020 Merle Curti Social History Award, given annually for the best book in American social history.
Jones-Rogers, who earned her M.A. in American History from RU-N in 2007 and is now Associate Professor of History at University of California, Berkeley, won both awards for her book, They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South (Yale University Press).
“In honoring my book, the judges for both prizes made it clear that they recognize the value of telling stories which center black lives; they acknowledged the importance of black truths and the significance of black testimony,” says Jones-Rogers. “It means that they saw me, my mother, my grandparents and other black folks like us. And that is the greatest prize of all.”
They Were Her Property draws upon formerly enslaved people's testimony, other narrative sources, legal documents and financial records to dramatically reshape our current understanding of white women's role in, and economic relationships to, slavery. Jones-Rogers shows that slave-owning women were sophisticated economic actors who directly engaged in and benefited from the South’s slave market. Typically inheriting more slaves than land, white women’s ownership of slaves was often their primary source of wealth. They often refused to cede ownership of slaves to their husbands, while managing them as effectively and brutally as slave-owning men. By examining the economically entangled lives of enslaved people and slave-owning women, Jones-Rogers’ account forces us to rethink the economics and social conventions of slaveholding America.
“I felt compelled to tell this story because our understanding of American slavery and the experiences of enslavement is impoverished and partial because we haven't grappled with white women's slave ownership,” says Jones-Rogers. “Not reckoning with this part of our history not only does us a disservice, it also dismisses or diminishes the experiences of those enslaved people who were subject to the will of female slaveowners. For me, telling this story is about justice.”
They Were Her Property beat out five other books for the Los Angeles Times Book Awards, which is in it 40th year of celebrating excellence in 12 categories while championing both veteran and new writers. The prizes are usually handed out in a ceremony held during the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at the University of Southern California each April, but this year’s two-day literary and cultural event has been postponed until October due to Covid-19.
Jones-Rogers thanked the judges and others in a video segment produced by the Los Angeles Times.
Meanwhile, the OAH panel said of Jones-Rogers book: “By deftly using the words of enslaved peoples to reveal the surprising freedom of white women as the head of the household, she troubles the earlier diminishment of “the plantation mistress” as a powerful force in the day-to-day lives of black people held in bondage, resulting in an ambitious model of social history and a major contribution to the rich histories of slavery, patriarchy, and the South.”
In honoring my book, the judges for both prizes made it clear that they recognize the value of telling stories which center black lives.
They Were Her Property was also selected as a finalist for the 2020 OAH Mary Nickliss Prize in U.S. Women’s and/or Gender History Committee. The book is based on Jones-Rogers’ revised doctoral dissertation, which won the Organization of American Historians' 2013 Lerner-Scott Prize for best doctoral dissertation in U.S. women's history.
After Jones-Rogers completed her M.A. in History from Rutgers University-Newark (RU-N) in 2007, she went on to earn her doctoral degree in African-American History in 2012 from Rutgers-New Brunswick. She began her career as an assistant professor jointly appointed in the departments of History and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Iowa, and spent the 2013-2014 academic year at Tulane University as the Newcomb College Institute’s Post-doctoral Fellow in Law and Society. During the 2018-2019 academic year, she also held the prestigious Harrington Faculty Fellowship in the History Department at the University of Texas, Austin.
Jones-Rogers is also the recipient of fellowships from the Hellman Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Ford Foundation and the Woodrow Wilson Foundation.
As she continues to excel in her field, Jones-Rogers has never forgotten the RU-N professors who laid the foundation for her career.
“I worked with extraordinary and supportive history faculty at RU-N who exemplified the kind of scholar I hoped to become, including Beryl Satter, Susan Carruthers, Stephen Pemberton, Karen Caplan, James Goodman, and Eva Giloi, who were critical to my training and helped me become the historian I am today,” says Jones-Rogers. “They pushed me out of my comfort zone, encouraged me to think beyond the obvious, and helped me to deal with critiques in a constructive way. In word and deed, the RU-N faculty served as models worthy of emulation.”