Bethan Abbs

History - BA (Hons)

Bethan Abbs is a History student who investigated US sexual violence and race in the wake of slave emancipation for her dissertation. The study, focusing on the American South between 1865-1917, demonstrates how the increase in allegations of sexual violence committed by black men was integral to the continuation of white supremacy.

Having always held an interest in American history and its political role in the world, Bethan was motivated to devote extensive research into race relations during the post-reconstruction era in an attempt to better understand the increasingly startling inequalities which continue to exist in the US today. In the age of the Black Lives Matter movement this is even more relevant.

Using contemporary news articles and trial testimonies Bethan charts the creation of the ‘brute’ stereotype, engineered by white supremacists to justify their terrorization of the wider black community. She then explores how this engineered moral panic was used by whites to re-establish their own masculinity after defeat in the Civil War, as they linked the protection of their own political and economic privileges with sexuality. This led to a violent campaign against not only black men’s reputations but also their bodies, as lynch culture emerged to reassert the racial hierarchy of the old South.

Bethan hopes to further develop her contribution to understanding the history of race and gender inequalities, using her scholarship for progressive change.