Rape and Race in the Nineteenth-Century South by Diane Miller Sommerville

By Diane Miller Sommerville

Hard notions of race and sexuality presumed to have originated and flourished within the slave South, Diane Miller Sommerville lines the evolution of white southerners' fears of black rape via interpreting genuine situations of black-on-white rape through the 19th century.Sommerville demonstrates that regardless of draconian statutes, accused black rapists usually shunned execution or castration, principally because of intervention by way of participants of the white group. This leniency belies claims that antebellum white southerners have been conquer with nervousness approximately black rape. in truth, Sommerville argues, there has been nice fluidity throughout racial and sexual traces in addition to a better tolerance between whites for intimacy among black men and white women. in line with Sommerville, pervasive misogyny fused with type prejudices to form white responses to accusations of black rape even throughout the Civil battle and Reconstruction classes, a testomony to the endurance of principles approximately terrible women's innate depravity.Based predominantly on court docket files and aiding felony documentation, Sommerville's exam forces a reassessment of long-held assumptions concerning the South and race family as she remaps the social and racial terrain on which southerners--black and white, wealthy and poor--related to each other over the lengthy 19th century.

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Rape and Race in the Nineteenth-Century South

Tough notions of race and sexuality presumed to have originated and flourished within the slave South, Diane Miller Sommerville lines the evolution of white southerners' fears of black rape by way of reading real situations of black-on-white rape during the 19th century. Sommerville demonstrates that regardless of draconian statutes, accused black rapists often shunned execution or castration, mostly as a result of intervention via individuals of the white neighborhood.

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Polly’s version of events was challenged by the testimony of a slave named Dick, who after hearing the commotion sneaked to where Polly and Jim were. ’’ Dick then made himself known to the couple, whereupon Polly accused Jim of assaulting her and implored Dick not to tell the Peppingers of the attack. ’’ The inference to be made, of course, was that Polly and Jim had been having an a√air, she became pregnant, and she then feigned the rape upon discovery, realizing that the only way out of the compromising situation was to deny that consensual sexual relations had ever taken place with Jim.

Importantly, the petitioners never pronounced the slave, in their words the ‘‘unfortunate boy,’’ innocent of the alleged o√ense. Nor is there even a hint of remorse conveyed by the convicted slave felon. ∏ That white Virginians seized a pen instead of rope and fagot to deal with accused slave rapists seems irreconcilable with our image, largely the product of the postbellum period, of lawless, unrestrained lynch mobs bent on vigilante ‘‘justice’’ and retribution. π T he collective white fear and anxiety about black sexual assault that loomed large in postbellum southern society is conspicuously absent in the rape case of Edmund, Kit, and Tom.

White women who flouted prevailing sexual mores, especially those who crossed racial boundaries willingly to have sex with black men, often faced derision by the white community and courts. White southerners could turn viciously on white female accusers who were believed to have broached racial sexual boundaries. A group of Virginians, for instance, made an appeal in 1803 on behalf of Carter, a slave found guilty of raping a poor white woman, Catherine Brinal, who, like Sarah Sands, had a reputation for cavorting with African American men.

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