Descendants of a prominent slaveholding family, Elizabeth, Grace, and Katharine Lumpkin grew up in a culture of white supremacy. But while Elizabeth remained a lifelong believer, her younger sisters chose vastly different lives. Seeking their fortunes in the North, Grace and Katharine reinvented themselves as radical thinkers whose literary works and organizing efforts brought the nation’s attention to issues of region, race, and labor.
In Sisters and Rebels: A Struggle for the Soul of America (W. W. Norton, 2019), National Humanities Award–winning historian Jacquelyn Dowd Hall follows the divergent paths of the Lumpkin sisters, who were “estranged and yet forever entangled” by their mutual obsession with the South. Tracing the wounds and unsung victories of the past through to the contemporary moment, Hall revives a buried tradition of Southern expatriation and progressivism; explores the lost, revolutionary zeal of the early twentieth century; and muses on the fraught ties of sisterhood.
Grounded in decades of research, the family’s private papers, and interviews with Katharine and Grace, Sisters and Rebels unfolds an epic narrative of American history through the lives and works of three Southern women.
Jacquelyn Dowd Hall is Julia Cherry Spruill Professor Emeritus at UNC-Chapel Hill. She was one of the founders of the modern field of women’s history and helped to spark a thriving scholarship in southern labor history and to turn the study of the civil rights movement in new directions. She was awarded a National Humanities Medal for her efforts to deepen the nation’s engagement with the humanities by “recording history through the lives of ordinary people, and, in so doing, for making history.” She is past president of the Organization of American Historians and the Southern Historical Association and founding president of the Labor and Working Class History Association.
Hall's books and articles include Revolt Against Chivalry: Jessie Daniel Ames and the Women’s Campaign Against Lynching (1979, 1993), winner of the Francis B. Simkins and Lillian Smith Awards; Like a Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World (1987, 2000), winner of the Albert J. Beveridge Award, Merle Curti Award, and the Philip Taft Labor History Prize; and “The Long Civil Rights Movement and the Political Uses of the Past,” Journal of American History (2005), an effort to challenge the myth that the movement was a short, successful bid to overcome segregation in the Jim Crow South. She has also won awards for graduate teaching and contributions to the fields of oral history and working-class history. She has held fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, the Radcliffe Center for Advanced Study, the National Humanities Center, and other institutions. She was elected to the Society of American Historians in 1990 and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the nation’s most prestigious honorary societies, in 2011.
Beth A. English is director of the Liechtenstein Institute’s Project on Gender in the Global Community at Princeton University. She also is a past president of the Southern Labor History Association.
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