The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Monday, October 10, 2011

Rape and Reconstruction


I found another Reconstruction book, Dixie After The War by one Myrta Lockett Avary. I got the recommendation from William Archibald Dunning, Reconstruction, political and economic, 1865-1877, 353. That's the bibliography; also worth a read, if only for its reviews of "Dunning School" histories up to 1906.

I'd like here to deal with chapter 31, "Crime Against Womanhood", which argues: "The rapist is a product of the reconstruction period." First, though, it has to lay out the case that Reconstruction did create what modern university departments call a Culture Of Rape. I share her concern, but I'd like to expand it as to the general lack of discipline in these regiments. And for that... I repeat this paragraph from 377-8 here, breaking it out with my own paragraph breaks for ease of reading.

General Weitzel, resigning his command, wrote from La Fourche and La Teche to Butler in New Orleans: "I can not command these negro regiments. Women and children are in terror. It is heartrending." [cite: See Sherman-Halleck correspondence in Sherman's "Memoirs" on "the inevitable Sambo". Also, W. T. Parker, U. S. A., on "The Evolution of the Negro Soldier," N. Amer. Rev., 1899. Lincoln disbanded the troops organised by General Hunter.]

General Halleck wrote, April, 1865, to General Grant of a negro corps: "A number of cases of atrocious rape by these men have already occurred. Their influence on the coloured people is reported bad. I hope you will remove it [the corps]."

Similar reports were made by other Federal officers. Governor Perry, of South Carolina, says: "I continued remonstrances to Secretary Seward on the employment of negro troops, gave detail of their atrocious conduct. At Newberry . . . (Crozier's story [140-2; you might not want to read this]). At Anderson, they protected and carried off a negro who had wantonly murdered his master. At Greenville, they knocked down citizens in the streets without slightest provocation. At Pocotaligo, they entered a gentleman's house, and after tying him, violated the ladies."


That's when it was reported. This is the South we are talking about here. One man observed, that when "a young white girl... was attacked by a negro" her family would "usually put" that it was "attempted", for "'consummated' nails the victim to a stake" (379).

In that last example, from Virginia, the rapist was caught, sentenced and hanged. Elsewhere, the courts did not function so well. Here, the Klan (or the Camellia) would act, and the rapist would not make it to the courthouse. Or, as the case may be, out of one: Avary brings up a case where the rapist (of a five year old girl) got appealed on an insanity plea - "people took him out and hung him".

As to why rape happened, Avary offers theories 384-5; that in Northern propaganda "violation of a white woman was no harm". A rapist alluded to that in page 381. Avary also cites one Professor Stratton in North American Review c. 1900 - probably John Roach Straton, "Will Education Solve The Race Problem?", NAR 170 (1900), 785-801.

Then for, delicately put, other theories Avary cites William Hannibal Thomas, The American Negro (NY: Macmillan, 1901), 65, 176-7, 223. This offered a black man's perspective: "The negro is a preëminently sensual race, and one whose male members have an inordinate craving for carnal knowledge of white women". No, srsly. This book repeats that sentiment three times, that Avary cites. Avary also cites Thomas Nelson Page, The Negro; The Southerner's Problem, 112 but this just cites WH Thomas's first two comments. [WARNING 2/10/2013: WH Thomas's book was controversial even in its own day. It should be read alongside John David Smith, Black Judas.]

As to Northern attitudes, Avary has a lament from one Southern girl at page 384. Substitute "the North", "Boston", and "New York" for "Boulder" and this could be written today:

They do not care, the men and women of the North, if we are raped. They do not care that we are prisoners of fear, that we fear to take a ramble in the woods alone, fear to go about the farms on necessary duties, fear to sit in our houses alone; fear, if we live in cities, to go alone on the streets at hours when a woman is safe anywhere in Boston or New York.

TN Page, for his part, noted that most Negro anti-lynching activists had little to say about the criminals in the Negro population: 113-5. This, also, could have been written today.


posted by Zimri on 16:51 | link | 0 comments

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