Laurie A. Wilkie will deliver The Iris Foundation Awards Lecture on Tuesday, April 16, at 6 pm. Her talk is entitled “Decorating Soldiers: Black Manhood, Citizenship, and Things on the Nineteenth-Century Texas Frontier.”

In 1869, segregated Black cavalry and infantry regiments were removed from enforcing Reconstruction policies in the recently defeated South and were pushed west of the Mississippi to serve on the frontier. Military service, one of the few occupations where Black men were assured an equal wage to their white peers, drew Civil War vets, formerly free men from the North, and thousands of formerly enslaved men. These men confronted not only the desert frontier, but also the frontier of newly found freedoms and promised citizenship. Historical archaeological research at Fort Davis, Texas, provides a unique window into their stories, drawing not only on understudied documents left by Black soldiers, but also on the circumstances of their day-to-day existence under the command of sometimes less-than-supportive white officers, and the things that they chose to surround themselves with as they abandoned their past for a new future. Materials from Fort Davis focus on the period from 1869–1875, before it was clear that Reconstruction would fail and new forms of enslavement under the guise of Jim Crow became entrenched: it is a period when hope and ambition dared Black men to imagine a different future.

Laurie A. Wilkie, professor of archaeology at the University of California, Berkeley, explores how nineteenth- and twentieth-century expressions of social difference, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sex, socioeconomics, and politics can be understood through the materiality of everyday life. Her books include The Archaeology of Mothering: An African-American Midwife’s Tale (2003), The Lost Boys of Zeta Psi: A Historical Archaeology of Masculinity in a University Fraternity (2010), and Strung Out on Archaeology (2014). Her current research focuses on the ways black soldiers navigated the racialized landscapes of the western frontier and military life and the ways they deployed material items to express their status as United States citizens.