Now, 80 years later, Mississippi has already made a “clear, pointed, and unequivocal discrimination” as if it had “selected a particular race or nationality for oppressive treatment,” which the court specifically struck down and condemned. in Skinner.
What today’s Supreme Court strategically overlooks, legal history reminds us with astonishing clarity, particularly the terrifying practices of American slavery, including harassment, kidnapping, confinement, coercion, rape and torture of black women and girls. In a commentary reprinted in the New York Times on January 18, 1860, slavery was described as a business that “treats ‘a black person’ like chattel, reproduces itself with as little regard for the bonds of marriage as he was an animal, is a moral outlaw.
Such sightings were hardly unique or rare; the Library of Congress offers a comprehensive collection of diaries, almanacs, daguerreotypes, illustrations, and other materials that make up the “African-American Mosaic: Influence of Prominent Abolitionists.” Laws dating back to the 1600s expose the sexual depravity and inhumanity of American slavery. In 1662 the Great Assembly of Virginia enacted one of its first “slave laws” to settle this point, expressing: “While certain doubts have arisen whether children obtained by an Englishman from a black woman should be slaves or free, be it therefore enacted and declared by this present Great Assembly, that all children born in this country shall be held slaves or free only according to the condition of the mother.
Thomas Jefferson kept many receipts and records related to the births of enslaved children on his Monticello plantation, including those that were eventually discovered to be his. Not surprisingly, at the heart of the abolition of slavery and involuntary servitude in the 13th Amendment was the forced sexual and reproductive servitude of black girls and women. Massachusetts Sen. Charles Sumner, who led efforts to outlaw slavery and enact the 13th Amendment, was nearly beaten to death in the halls of Congress two days after delivering a speech condemning the culture of sexual violence that held sway slavery.
Black women also spoke of their reproductive servitude. In 1851, in her compelling speech titled Ain’t I a Woman, Sojourner Truth implored the crowd of men and women gathered at the Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, understand the gravity and depravity of American slavery on the reproductive autonomy and privacy of black women. Reported by newspapers and recorded throughout history, Ms Truth said she had had 13 children and had seen nearly every one of them ripped from her arms, without recourse to law or court. Wasn’t she also a woman? According to the accounts of those gathered, including the famous feminist abolitionist Frances Gage, the room stopped and then burst into applause.
Similarly, in “Incidents In The Life of A Slave Girl”, published in 1861, Harriet Jacobs describes herculean efforts to avoid the inevitable sexual assault and rape by her captor. She writes, “I saw a man forty years my senior violate nature’s most sacred commandments daily. He told me that I was his property; that I must be subject to his will in all things.