The Treatment of Black Enslaved Women
In the middle of the 19th century, thoughts about slavery differed from males to females, predominantly throughout the white race. The gender of a slave remained the main controversial issue about slavery, due solely on the fact that the treatment of enslaved black women was by far different from enslaved black men. Black women were raped by their white owners and conceived children from the assaults. They also had to undergo unfair treatment by white women, either by the wife, daughters, or friends of the owner, because of jealousy or hatred they had against enslaved black women. These women who were claimed as property were bearing children by their white male owners. Melton Mclaurin, the author of Celia, a Slave, wrote about a young black slave and the triumphs she experienced. Young Celia was a slave who was bought at the age of fourteen by Robert Newsom, a well-established man. After conceiving his children due to multiple rapes by her owner, Celia was convicted of 1st degree murder and put to death because she killed Mr. Newsom. In addition to telling Celia’s story, Mclaurin ties in the issues regarding slaves for men and women.
Granted that both black men and women were enslaved by whites, it was the black women’s experience of poorer treatment from their owners and other whites that made slavery controversial. The transparent level of respect that black women were given was undoubtedly noticeable. The little rights they owned by law weren’t even applied to incidents that occurred. Black women were raped repeatedly by their owners and nothing was done about it. In Celia, a Slave, Mclaurin states, “sexually vulnerable and powerless as victims of rape and domestic violence.”1 In other words, black women weakened by the assaults done by their owner. This is important because it explains the fact that black enslaved women had little control over the events that happened to them. On the other hand, when black women do try to defend themselves that’s when it’s a major problem and becomes controversial. Although, black enslaved women had the right to use force against their master if they tried to rape or physically assaulted them, most states had laws that white owners can do as they please with their “property.” As Mclaurin puts it in his book, “In Missouri, sexual assault on a salve woman by white males was considered trespass, not rape, and an owner could hardly be charged with trespassing upon his own property.”2 Meaning that owners owned slaves and they can do as they please because they own it. The significance of the quote relates to the point that black enslaved women had no rights. Along with being raped, black women conceived children from the nonconsensual sex with their owner.
The controversy over white male owners having children with their slaves grew larger because sex between the two should have never been occurring. When Celia was raped by Mr. Newsom in Celia, a Slave, her owner, she delivered two of his children. The children that black enslaved women had by their owners were neglected and treated as slaves as well. Many times the children of slaves were used as a lever, to keep the slave in order. In the book, Mclaurin expresses, “that if a slave woman had children, as Celia did, physical resistance could also lead to retribution against her children, including their sale.”3 Basically stating that, if an enslaved black women were to try and “resist” their owner from anything, their children would get any repercussion for counterattacking. This quote is important because not only did black women have to fear white men because of their nonexistent rights, they also had to look out for the other enslaved black men. Owning slaves made the status of white families rise because slaves weren’t necessarily low-priced. The more slaves a person had the higher rank they were in. Some families had up to ten slaves, Robert Newsom had about four slaves including Celia. Slave owners didn’t really allow slaves to be romantic and if it was found out about there were consequences. Unfortunately, some black slaves had no intention of being romantic, they too like the white males would rape black enslaved women and there was little a woman could do to defend herself. Mclaurin proclaims that, “Black female slaves were essentially powerless in a slave society, unable to legally protect themselves from the physical assaults of either white or black males.”4 Quoting that black enslaved women couldn’t guard herself from rape against a white or a black man. This is essential because this connects to the amount of rights and respect a black enslaved woman attained, which was none.
To defend herself or even try and go to authorities on the harm being done was un-thought of. In Celia, a Slave, it states, “If the courts would not convict black males of raping slaves, then such a charge against a white male is ludicrous.”5 The quote explains the foolish thoughts of how difficult it would be to try and convict a male of any race of rape. The importance of this quote relates to the controversy over the treatment of black enslaved women and how they were treated unfairly by not only their owners, but by their own race of men. White women also had it against black women as well. The wives, daughters, and other members related to the white male slave owner sometimes were jealous of their slaves. Mclaurin said that when Newsom purchased Celia, “Celia were different from those that motivated his previous slave purchase… he had set out to purchase a replacement for his wife.”6 Meaning that some slave owners that were widowers often a replacement for their wife. This made white women angry because the thought of any sexual activity between white males and black women disgusted them. Mclaurin quotes, “Frequently, however, southern white women were powerless to prevent the actions of male family member, a circumstance that sometimes led them to vent their anger at white males upon the slave.”7 Otherwise meaning that, when white women were angered by the actions of a white man, they would take it out on the enslaved black woman and treat them horribly. Even though, both races were similar because they were women and each had little to no rights, white women decided to be malicious instead of come together.
In closing, the controversial aspects that involved the treatment between enslaved black men and women extremely differed between them. Black women experienced by far the worst treatment. These poor women were raped and couldn’t defend themselves not only because of their gender, but also because of their race. The men who owned them had daughters and still treated a slave as if they had no morals. Mclaurin verbalizes, “Certainly the fact that Robert Newsom was the father of two daughters who resided in his household had not influenced his attitudes about or conduct toward Celia.”8 In other words, the fact that Robert had daughters, it did not change the how he would treat women. This is important because having daughters should have the owners treat the women slaves fairly because they wouldn’t want their daughter treated unfairly.
Black enslaved women were not raped by the men who owned them, but by the men who were owned. Black men had no respect for the black enslaved women, they took advantage of them willingly, even though they were in the same horrible position. With the treatment of black women being that they were raped or impregnated, white women treated black enslaved women with how they felt. If they were angry they would treat them unethically. The controversy over what was happening to black enslaved women was major, but yet it took time for the controversy to have meaning and cause change.
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