Introduction

  • Bernadette J. Brooten
Chapter
Part of the Black Religion/Womanist Thought/Social Justice book series

Abstract

This book invites and enables readers to engage with the history of slavery over centuries and across continents—in particular, with its effects on enslaved women and girls and past religious complicity in it.2 I hope that this new way of viewing slavery will motivate readers to create new strategies for overcoming the vestiges of slavery that continue to shape our daily lives in ways that are often difficult to see. Consider the following modern-day experiences:

“As a descendant of African slave women,” writes Amina Wadud, a leading scholar of Islam who usually wears the Muslim headscarf in public, “I have carried the awareness that my ancestors were not given any choice to determine how much of their bodies would be exposed at the auction block or in their living conditions. So, I chose intentionally to cover my body as a means of reflecting my historical identity, personal dignity, and sexual integrity.3

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  1. 1.
    Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2007) 133.Google Scholar
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    Amina Wadud, Inside the Gender Jihad: Women’s Reform in Islam (Oxford: Oneworld, 2006) 221.Google Scholar
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    In Hebrew, ‘agunot means “chained women” and designates wives whose husbands refuse to give them the bill of divorcement that would allow them to remarry. According to rabbinic law, only the husband may write a bill of divorcement. See Rebecca Spence, “Protesters Rally Outside a Home as Debate Continues Over Best Get Tactics,” Jewish Daily Forward, March 20, 2009, http://www.forward.com/articles/103844/ (accessed September 7, 2009). Also see the Web site of Organization for the Resolution of Agunot, http://www.getora.com/ (accessed September 7, 2009) and of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, http://www.jofa.org/ (accessed September 7, 2009), which seeks a rabbinic solution to the problem.Google Scholar
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    “David Einhorn’s Response to Rabbi Morris Raphall’s ‘A Biblical View of Slavery’” (1861), Jewish-American History on the Web, under “Jews in the Civil War,” http://www.jewish-history.com/civilwar/einhorn.html (accessed April 12, 2008).Google Scholar
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    Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, ed. David Waldstreicher (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002) 195; discussed in Mia Bay, “Love, Sex, Slavery, and Sally Hemings,” in this volume, 191.Google Scholar
  18. 41.
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    As New Testament scholar Clarice J. Martin writes of enslaved persons in the Roman Empire, “There was no way they could escape the uninhibited supervisory gaze of their owners.” Martin, “The Eyes Have It: Slaves in the Community of Christ-Believers,” in A People’s History of Christianity, vol. 1, Christian Origins, ed. Richard A. Horsley (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005) 233.Google Scholar
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    Lalita Tademy’s historical novel Cane River (New York: Warner, 2001), which is based on cryptically brief family records, vividly helps readers to imagine how enslaved girls could have hoped that their relationship with the master’s son or another free white boy or man would be different—that he truly cared for her and would care for their children—even as their respective mothers and grandmothers realistically planned for their futures. I thank Barbara Brooten Job for this reference.Google Scholar
  28. 61.
    Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars: Vespasian 3; Suetonius, vol. 2, trans. J. C. Rolfe, Loeb Classical Library (rev. ed., Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997) 271. As a man of the senatorial class, Vespasian was not allowed to marry a freedwoman.Google Scholar
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    Kathleen M. Blee, Women of the Klan: Racism and Gender in the 1920s (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), shows that women, including feminists, were involved in the Klan. She documents the Klan’s emphasis on attending church and its increasing anti-Catholicism. Blee’s illustration number 11 (from the Library of Congress) of a 1924 Klan baby christening is particularly chilling.Google Scholar
  32. 65.
    Lisa Cardyn, “Sexualized Racism/Gendered Violence: Outraging the Body Politic in the Reconstruction South,” Michigan Law Review 100 (2002) 675–867. For a summary of Lisa Cardyn’s paper “Practices of Sexual Terrorism in the Reconstruction South” (presented at the “Beyond Slavery: Overcoming Its Religious and Sexual Legacy Conference,” Brandeis University, October 16, 2006), visit the Feminist Sexual Ethics Project Web site, http://www.brandeis.edu/projects/fse/Conference/Conf-main3.html#cardyn (accessed September 19, 2009).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    William Grimes, Life of William Grimes, the Runaway Slave: Written by Himself (New York: 1825), available at Documenting the American South, http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/grimes25/menu.html (accessed December 1, 2009). Grimes’s work forms a rare exception in its straightforward depiction of the range of human moral behavior. I thank Joan Bryant for this reference.Google Scholar
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    See the essays by Dorothy Roberts, Emilie M. Townes, Dwight N. Hopkins, Mia Bay, and Catherine Clinton in this volume, as well as the unusual 1859 Virginia case, Commonwealth v. Ned, in which the judge joined the cases of an enslaved African American girl and a free European American girl who complained of sexual assault by an enslaved man. The court found the man, named Ned, guilty. For a summary of Wilma King’s paper “‘He said He Would Give Us Some Flowers’: Sexual Violations, Girls, and the Law in the Antebellum South,” (presented at the “Beyond Slavery: Overcoming Its Religious and Sexual Legacy Conference,” Brandeis University, October 16, 2006), which analyzes Commonwealth v. Ned, visit the Feminist Sexual Ethics Project, http://www.brandeis.edu/projects/fse/Conference/Conf-main3.html#king (accessed September 19, 2009). In response to George [a slave] v. State, 37 Miss. 316 [1859], which quashed the indictment of an enslaved man for raping an enslaved girl under the age of ten, the Mississippi legislature passed a highly unusual statute that criminalized the rape of a “female negro or mulatto,” if she were under the age of twelve and the assailant a “negro or mulatto” (Mississippi Session Acts, ch. 62, p. 102 [1860]). See Helen Tunnicliff Catterall, ed., Judicial Cases Concerning American Slavery and the Negro, vol. 3 (Washington, DC: Carnegie Institute, 1932) 363. I thank Wilma King for this reference.Google Scholar
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  36. 70.
    I thank Anita F. Hill for the idea to commission research on this topic and for her collaboration in supervising it with a grant from the Ford Foundation. See Elizabeth Kennedy, Victim Race and Rape (Waltham, MA: Feminist Sexual Ethics Project, Brandeis University, 2003), http://www.brandeis.edu/projects/fse/slavery/slav-us/slav-us-articles/slav-us-art-kennedy-full.pdf (accessed August 26, 2009)Google Scholar
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    Pope Nicholas V, Romanus pontifex (January 8, 1455), papal bull granting King Alfonso V of Portugal the rights named above; and Pope Alexander VI, Inter caetera (May 3, 1493), papal bull granting Castille’s rulers and successors the same rights. See John T. Noonan, Jr., A Church that Can and Cannot Change: The Development of Catholic Moral Teaching (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005) 62–65, and for the fuller history, chaps. 4–17.Google Scholar
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© Bernadette J. Brooten 2010

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