Words of Resistance: Black Womens Testimony about Sexual Violence During Reconstruction

Lecture Description

During the years of Reconstruction, former slaves looked ahead to the opportunities made possible by their new status as free persons while many white southerners resisted those possibilities by targeting freedpeople with violence, including sexual violence against Black women. This lecture examines the effort of formerly enslaved women to document to federal officials the sexual violence that they and their communities suffered. These women’s testimony about rape before congressional investigating committees and the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands provides a window onto both white-on-Black rape in this period and also onto how African American women claimed rights as citizens by demanding protection from violence and by affirming their identities as individuals with the same bodily integrity and “honor” as others. Black women’s testimony reveals how new rights to refuse the demands of white men for sex and to control their bodies and sexual relationships were for African American women a central part of the meaning of freedom.


Civil War and Reconstruction Gender, Masculinity, Femininity

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