Saturday, December 09, 2017

For black women, #MeToo came centuries too late (Colbert King, WaPo)

Share this eloquent slave testimony with those who need their conscience (and consciousness) raised. Florida is damn lucky that Stetson Kennedy led the WPA's efforts here, interviewing slaves in the 1930s, the biggest trove of slave interviews in the Nation. Dr. Peggy Bulger's painstaking Ph.D. thesis is now available in paperback, documenting the work of my late friend and mentor, Wm. Stetson Kennedy.

Slave shackles on display at New Sardis Baptist Church in Memphis. Mike Brown/Asscoaited (sic) Press

By Colbert I. King Opinion writer December 8 at 7:28 PM
The reckoning with men who use their power to take what they want from women, as signified by Time magazine’s choosing the #MeToo movement — “The Silence Breakers” — as the 2017 Person of the Year, has been momentous.

But it comes centuries late for America’s original victims of grotesque sexual exploitation: black women, who suffered horribly, in forced silence, back in the day when it was considered quite all right for white folks to own people of a darker hue.

Memories of that repugnant era can be found in interviews of former slaves compiled in the 1930s by the Works Progress Administration Slaves Narrative Project. That legacy of pain and suffering remains with us today.

“Plenty of the colored women have children by the white men. She know better than to not do what he say. . . . Then they take them very same children what have they own blood and make slaves out of them. If the Missus find out she raise revolution. But she hardly find out. The white men not going to tell and the nigger women were always afraid to. So they jes go on hopin’ that thing[s] won’t be that way always.”

— W.L. Bost, enslaved in North Carolina, interviewed 1937.

“There was a doctor in the neighborhood who bought a girl and installed her on the place for his own use, his wife hearing it severely beat her. . . . I have had many opportunities, a chance to watch white men and women in my long career, colored women have many hard battles to fight to protect themselves from assault by employers, white male servants or by white men, many times not being able to protect [themselves], in fear of losing their positions.”

— Richard Macks, enslaved in Maryland, interviewed 1937.

“In them times white men went with colored gals and women bold[ly]. Any time they saw one and wanted her, she had to go with him, and his wife didn’t say nothin’ ’bout it. . . . Now sometimes, if you was a real pretty young gal, somebody would buy you without knowin’ anythin’ ’bout you, just for yourself. Before my old marster died, he had a pretty gal he was goin’ with and he wouldn’t let her work nowhere but in the house, and his wife nor nobody else didn’t say nothin’ ’bout it; they knowed better. She had three chillun for him and when he died his brother come and got the gal and the chillun.”

— Unnamed former slave, enslaved in Georgia, interviewed circa 1937.

“I was regarded as fair-looking for one of my race, and for four years a white man . . . had base designs upon me. I do not care to dwell upon this subject, for it is one that is fraught with pain. Suffice it to say that he persecuted me for four years, and I — I — became a mother. The child of which he was the father was the only child that I ever brought into the world. If my poor boy ever suffered any humiliating pangs on account of birth, he could not blame his mother, for God knows that she did not wish to give him life. He must blame the edicts of that society which deemed it no crime to undermine the virtue of girls in my then position.”

— Elizabeth Keckley, author of the autobiography “Behind the Scenes: Or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House,” 1868.

“Mother said there were cases where these young girls loved someone else and would have to receive the attentions of men of the master’s choice . . . . The masters called themselves Christians, went to church worship regularly and yet allowed this condition to exist.”

— Hilliard Yellerday, enslaved in North Carolina, interviewed circa 1937.

Many of the light-skinned blacks of my generation and in generations before are descendants of Southern rural plantations. They and their children are living reminders of a time without safeguards or boundaries, and when black women had no choice — and white men faced no consequences.

This is the period that Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate from Alabama, is nostalgic for. “I think it was great at the time when families were united — even though we had slavery — they cared for one another,” he said.

How different is it today? My Post colleague Karen Attiah noted this in an interview with NPR about the #MeToo movement:

“What ties all of this together, regardless of income, regardless of status, regardless of color, really, is about the abuse of power.” Women of color already have harder barriers in those professional circles, she said. “I think we absolutely do need to pay more attention to their stories, and part of that will be for us to start listening and to start taking women of color seriously.” And that, Lord knows, will be an American First.

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