You Belong to Me

Sex, Race and Murder in the South

The Ruby McCollum Story

Danielle McGuire

“White men most often were able to get away with attacking black women. It was seemingly their prerogative. They could do whatever they wanted to do to a black woman's body, and that was a prerogative again that was rooted in slavery.”

“Black women who were enslaved were the properties of their white masters.  During slavery, white men who owned slaves could increase their property value and increase their property by impregnating black enslaved women.  So, it made sense to have sex with them, to rape them, and to have them bear children. When slavery ended, that habit, that behavior, that prerogative continued.”

“White men never had to take responsibility for the children they had with enslaved women. They never had to give them their last names.  They never had to acknowledge the relationship.  They never had any legal obligations to them, and particularly, any kind of inheritance obligations. So those children would become slaves.”

“A black woman could never be sure of the sanctity of her own body if she was out in public in an integrated space.   When black women were in contact or in spaces where there were white men, that's when they were most vulnerable.”

“From Reconstruction all the way through the mid-20th century black women have been slapped, assaulted, pinched, whistled at, touched inappropriately, grabbed, beaten and other things throughout the South in every major city and small towns.  These stories come through in letters to the NAACP, in newspaper stories, in letters to women's organizations and elsewhere. So you just get a sense that their bodies are never really theirs alone.”

“Throughout slavery, there was this sense that black women couldn't be raped, that they were lustful, that they were highly sexual, that they desired sex all the time, that they were essentially Jezebels. And, therefore, a lustful hyper-sexual woman couldn't be raped, because she wanted sex all the time. And that justified this steady assault of black women during slavery.”

“I do think that, there's always an assumption among segregationists in the South throughout the 20th century that the only thing African Americans are interested in when they ask for freedom or equality is social equality. And what they mean by that, it becomes a euphemism for interracial sex.”

“And so African Americans weren't so eager to promote interracial relationships because it would add fuel to the fire of segregationists saying, see, that's what they want. They want to intermarry. And that's not what they wanted. What they wanted was equal access to schools, equal access to opportunity. Good jobs. Fair housing and the right to move through the world without being assaulted, or murdered or lynched.”

 And so black women had this long history of testimony. They also had a long history of silence, and it's the silence that we tend to remember. And, we forget the testimony.  Partly because we're uncomfortable talking about rape.  And we're uncomfortable talking about interracial rape.  It's a difficult subject, and this is a difficult history. But, black women weren't always afraid to speak out. And did so whenever they had the opportunity to do so.”

 An African American woman in 1952, if she were being raped, assaulted, coerced in any way, she would know in her bones, there was no place she could go. There was no one she could turn to in terms of the law. She could not tell a policeman, she could not trust a court or a jury. There would be no recourse.”

“If an African American woman found herself in a consensual relationship with a white man in 1952, it would be very difficult. She would probably be shunned in some ways in the black community, she would not be welcomed by the white community, their relationship would not be recognized by the law.   If they lived in an area where Klan violence was rampant, or the law, the legal apparatus was white supremacist, they were in danger every time they were together, probably their only option would probably be to move. To leave the state and move to the North, where interracial relationships were possible. It didn't mean that they would be easy, but they would certainly be easier than living in the South.”

To leave the state, and go to the North, where you could have an interracial relationship. It wouldn't make it any easier necessarily, but at least you could do it there in a way in which you were not in fear for your lives or fear of the Sheriff running into your bedroom in the middle of the night and, and murdering you or your husband.”

“Miscegenation is a term, derogatory, really, that describes interracial sex. And it was a term that was used widely in the 19th century, but also used in the 20th century. You can hear segregationists speaking out against miscegenation in the 1940s and the 1950s and into the 1960s. But it is, it is really just the concept of illicit interracial sex.”

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