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Throughout history, Black Women's voices have been censored, silenced, and forgotten. There are a multitude of Black women slaves that were subjected to sexual violence and harassment; yet, there are no records that capture their voices. Unfortunately, they died before anyone heard their story or received justice for the heinous crimes against them. We [Readers] are only privy to someone else's perspective of their story. Usually, we hear their story from the oppressor's point of view. For example, the legal records were written by white men from their point of view. A white man could not possibly understand the black woman's plight, trauma, or experience. A white man's voice is not a black woman's voice. With that said, the "Reclaim the Black Woman's Voice" campaign captures the voices of Black women Survivor of sexual assault or rape. For Black History Month, we will feature a Survivor's picture (if available), a summary of her story with some historical facts, and a link to a website that will provide further details about her story. If you would like your story or know of a forgotten black woman's voice, please send us the information via e-mail at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
In 1828, Harriet Jacobs's life changed for the worst. Her and her brother were separated. Her Slave master, began to severely sexually harass, Stalk, and threaten her. In an effort to combat the harassment, she had two children by a white man. However, her slave master continued to harass her. He further threatened to split up her family if she did not submit to his advances. Jacobs made a tough decision. She sent her children to live with their father and fled to New York, where she became a freed slave. Her story is captured in the autobiography, "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl."
There are no records that actually capture Celia's voice. Only a legal case, written from the oppressor's point of view. The Missouri court documents clearly indicate Celia's slave master habitually raped her from the ages of 14 to 19 years old. Celia couldn't handle the constant sexual assault, so she killed her slave master. She hit her slave master in a head with a stick. Once she figured he was dead, she burned his body and buried the body parts that did not burn. She told the court that the murder was in self-defense. Since slaves were considered property, they were not afforded the same protections as human beings. The court found her guilty of murder and sentenced her to death via hanging.
There isn't much information about the life of Gertrude Perkins. We have the story of her rape from the local Montgomery newspaper. Otherwise, we have no record of her voice.
At midnight on March 27, 1949, Gertrude was on her way home from a party when two white police officers arrested her for public drunkenness. Instead of taking her o jail, they drove her to the edge of a railroad embankment and dragged her behind a building. At gunpoint, the officers raped Gertrude repeatedly and forced her to have "all types [of] sex relations." She went to her local pastor and the NAACP for help. The local pastor questioned the truth since she was drunk. However, they filed charges against the police officers. Unfortunately, the mayor ruled that the complaint was "completely false" and it was a violation of the "constitutional rights of the police."
In the Bible, the book 2 Samuel 13 tells the story of the rape of Tamar. We don't hear her voice but we have an idea of what happened and how she felt. Tamar was the daughter of King David. She is the sister of Abasalom and the half-sister of Amnon. Amnon was obsessed with Tamar because she was a virgin.
One day, he pretended to be sick in order to get Tamar alone. He asked King David to have Tamar bring him food. She arrived in his chamber (bedroom) with the food. He said, "come lie with me, my sister." She replied, "no, my brother, do not force me; for no such thing ought to happen in Israel. Do not do this wicked thing." He did not listen to her. By force, he overpowered her and raped her. Amnon hated Tamar exceedingly and threw her out. Abasalom asked her if she slept with Amnon. She told him the details, but he told her to remain silent. She was desolate and deeply grieved, while Abasalom hated Amnon from bringing shame and disgrace to Tamar.
Two years after the rape, Abasalom killed Amnon.
On September 3, 1944, Taylor and friends were walking home from Rock Hill Holiness Church in Abbeville, Alabama. 7 white men with knives and guns, got out of the car and proceeded toward them. They accused Taylor of cutting a white boy. They told her friends to leave. At gunpoint, they told Taylor to get in the car. They drove her to a "red-clay tractor path in the woods and stopped at a grove of pecan trees." While at gunpoint, they told her to take off her clothes and lie down. She said, "please let me go home to my husband and my baby." One of the rapists said, "act just like you do with your husband or I'll cut your damn throat!" 6 of the 7 white men took turns raping her that evening. When they finished, they blindfolded her and dropped her off on the side of the road. She immediately reported the abduction and rape to the police. She also identified each of the perpetrators. The police did not arrest any of them, they only fined the driver $250. The black community was FURIOUS. This anger birthed the equal justice movement. She had voluminous evidence to substantiate her case; yet, received no justice. Most critically, some of the rapists came forth with the truth, but still did not go to jail. She never received justice before she passed away, only a state apology from Alabama State Representative, Dexter Grimaley and Abbeville Mayor, Ryan Blalock.
Photo credit-Susan Walsh/AP
Marguerite Annie Johnson aka Maya Angelou, was raped by her mother's boyfriend when she was 7 years old. The rapist was found guilty, but was only sentenced to 1 day in jail. Her uncles took matters into their own hands and kicked the rapist to death. Angelou stated, "I killed a man because I told his name. And then I thought I would never speak again, because my voice would kill anyone." Angelou became a mute for 5 years. When she finally spoke, she had a lot to say. She turned her pain into purpose by writing about her trauma. She became a notable scholar, author, poet, and literary canon. Maya Angelou received her justice by exposing the injustices of the judicial system and paving the way for survivors to reclaim their voice. She wrote about her rape, in the novel, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings."
Growing up, her family called her "Nikki." At 19 years old, Nikki was raped at gunpoint while working at Payless shoe store. Union stated, "Nikki died that day." The rebirth as a survivor became "Gabrielle, the Phoenix that has sort of risen from the ashes." She also states, the rapist pleaded guilty to rape and was sentenced to 33 years in jail. She indicates that she still has triggers and suffers from PTSD. She said that "post-traumatic stress syndrome [PTSD] kicked in-gear after seeing the hashtag #MeToo blow up on social media." She recalls "I saw #MeToo and my arm went numb."
In 1962, Rhonda Eva Harris (aka Iyanla Vanzant) was raped at 9 years old. She expressed, "I loved it when he got drunk because I would go in his pants pocket and steal money." One day, after she had stolen .50 cent from her uncle, he called her to the basement. She thought he found out about the money. Instead, he said, "you know, you are so pretty." Then, he raped her. Vanzant immediately told, but her uncle said "she was lying." She did not receive justice. However, she uses her experience with trauma to heal others. Please click on the video to hear further detail about her story while helping others.
Dana Elaine Owens (aka) Queen Latifah, an American rapper, was sexually abused by her male teenage babysitter over a period of time as a child. At 22 years old, her brother passed away, which gave her the courage to share her story. She said, "he [male teenage babysitter] violated!" She goes on, "I never told anybody; I just buried it as deeply as I could and kept people at an arm's distance." Her experience with trauma left her unable to form relationships as an adult. She also had commitment issues. Like she indicated, she did not tell her parents, so she did not receive therapy right away. When she told her parents about the sexual abuse, her mother felt extremely bad, but her father said nothing. Holding in the pain, she suffered internally, which negatively impacted the thoughts of herself and others. She eventually went to therapy to heal from the trauma.
* Photo Credit: BergenPAC
** July 2009 Essence Magazine, Regina Robertson's interview with Queen Latifah, pg 106.
There is no record of Owens's existence after the trial. She purposely disappeared. On May 2, 1959, four white males made the following pact: "go out and get a nigger girl and have an all night party." Owens and her friends were driving back from Florida A&M University's Orange and Green Ball. With a shotgun, the four white males forced them out of the car. They ordered the 2 black men to leave while keeping Owens and Edna Richardson. Richardson escaped and ran away, leaving Owens to be forced in the backseat and driven to a secluded area in the woods. She was taken out of the car and told to lay on the ground. Owens was raped 7 times by the four white males. Each rapist watched the other rape Owens. Afterwards, they bounded, gagged, and put her on the floor of the backseat. Her friends reported the abduction to the local police where Officer Joe Cook Jr. immediately called for back up and searched for Owens. The police arrested the four white male rapists. they confessed, in writing, that they had abducted and raped Betty Jean Owens. The Black community was outraged. There were boycotts, protests, and mass media coverage. This became the first time in Florida that white defendants awaited trial in jail. they jury found the four white rapists guilty of rape and sentenced to life in prison. One of the rapists was released early. He tracked down a "Betty Owens" and murdered her, however, it was not the Betty Owens that he had raped. Thereafter, she has spent her life in hiding. If you would like information about her, please contact her grandson at email@example.com.
* Sketch Credit: Linda Proctor
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Beginning at 8 years old, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley was sexually abused for decades. Her elementary school became her safe haven from trauma, dysfunction, and drama. During her study at Boston University, she was raped again, by a well-known campus figure, who was actually a serial rapist. She did not report either rapes. She didn't want to expose the campus serial rapist. It wasn't until she became a member of Congress when she began sharing her story. She said, "the reason I tell my story is to create space and dignity for survivors, to let them know that they are seen, that they are not alone, and that I am going to be vigilant in this moment for their healing and justice."
*photo credit: congress.gov
Tarana Burke, the founder of the #Metoo Movement, was raped and sexually assaulted as a child. Her mother supported her recovery from these violent acts and encouraged her to get involved in her community. In 2003, she founded "Just Be Inc." where she coined the term: "Me too." She recalls talking with a girl who revealed that her mother's boyfriend had been sexually abusing her. Burke searched for the right words to help empathize with the countless women and girls who experienced sexual violence and "me too" helped shape her life long campaign for activism to help these girls and women.
As a teenager, Dandridge was sexually assaulted by her mother's partner. According to Halle Berry, Dandridge was torn down from the abuse she suffered. She never received justice for the abuse she experience. She held the trauma inside and it effected her mental and emotional health. She didn't have a chance to tell her story because she ended her life by suicide.
Photo Credit: timetoast.com
Davis doesn't provide details about her experience with sexual assault. She often shares her sister's story. She is a committed advocate for survivors of sexual violence because she has witnessed her sister's struggle, pain, and suffering. She explores the devastation of sexual violence in the black community. She explains how Jim Crow laws influenced the rape culture and its horrific effects on black women. She stated, "Jim Crow did a job on us." She believes that every girl has experienced some form of sexual violence in their lives. She stated, "me, my mom, my sister, and my friend have all experienced some form of sexual assault." She plans to spread awareness to combat sexual assault in the black community.
*Photo Credit: Mark Blinch/Reuters
In 1946, Viola White's sixteen years old daughter was abducted by Officer A.A. Enger. He drove her to a cemetery and raped her. While being raped, she stared at his car and memorized the license tag number. The next day she reported the rape to the police. It is believed that he raped her in retaliation of Viola White filing a lawsuit against the Montgomery, AL police department for police brutality. Instead of firing Officer A.A. Enger for rape, the police chief let him slip away from town quietly.
In October 1991, Anita Hill courageously stood before the U.S. Senate Judiciary committee to tell how she was sexually harassed by Clarence Thomas, during his confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Judge. She stated, "I thought by saying 'no' and explaining my reasons to my employer, he would abandon social suggestions. However, Clarence Thomas ignored her and continued to harass her. This was highly controversial. While she spoke of the unwanted advances and how they made her feel, the U.S. Senate Judiciary committee still confirmed Clarence Thomas, which set the precedent for future sexual harassment cases. It also sent a message to every man and woman that it is okay to sexually harass women and women's voices don't matter.
*Photo Credit: John Duricka / Associated Press
In 2008, Mo'Nique told the world that she was sexually abused by her brother when she was 7 years old. Her brother molested her 4 times over 4 years, once luring her into the bathroom with candy. When she told her parents, her brother said that she was lying. Her parents were angry, but did nothing about it. Her mom said, "if it is true, it will surface again." Her brother served a 15 years prison sentence for sexually abusing another girl. When Mo'Nique prepared for her role in the movie, "Precious," she said that she thought of her brother. She stated, "my brother was a monster to me."
*Photo Credit: News3lv.com
As a child, Winfrey endured physical abuse from her grandmother, abandonment from her mother, and hardship from her father. Her grandmother whipped and beat her so much so it would constitute "child abuse" today. At 6 yrs old, she left her grandmother's house and moved in with her mother. Her mother's housekeeper made Winfrey sleep on the porch. At 9 years old, she was raped. She stated, "he took me to an ice cream shop, blood still running down my leg, and bought me ice cream." She was sexually abused form 10-14 years old. She found out she was pregnant. Her mother kicked her out of the house. She moved in with her father, who wasn't aware of her pregnancy. Two weeks after she had her baby, it died. She indicated that she buried her feelings. She stated, "she was thankful for everything that happened." She used her pain as motivation to be successful. She found justice in becoming successful.
*Photo Credit: UNCF
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Although Aretha Franklin grew up in the church as a preacher's child, sexual violence shaped her life at 12 years old. Her father preyed on young girls and impregnated a 12 years old girl. Franklin may have thought that older men impregnating young girls was the norm because she was pregnant by Sam Cooke at 12 years old. Sam Cooke was 22 years old, a 10 year difference. She was considered a "pre-teen." This is statutory rape, sex abuse, child abuse, and sexual violence. A child cannot legally give consent at 12 years old. A young black girl having sex and getting pregnant was the norm at that time because this was taught during slavery. Slave masters would rape the black girls or the black girls would marry young to procreate or reproduce. This was a "good" thing for slave masters, they would have more slaves, which would increase economic capital and generational wealth.
*Photo Credit: nashcountrydaily.com
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At 16 years old, Cyntoia Brown was tried and convicted a an adult for 1st degree murder and aggravated assault. Brown was a runaway teenager, forced into prostitution by a known pimp. The night she committed murdered, she was in fear for her life. Yet, the courts victimized and condemned her because they viewed her as a prostitute, without making the connection that she was underage and vulnerable. This perpetuates the stereotype that black girls are not viewed as a child, but promiscuous or exotic women. A black girl doesn't have a chance to be a child in America. Brown describes, 'I was in my late twenties when I actually realized that I was a trafficking victim." The courts brainwashed her into believing that she was just a teenage prostitute that "knew" what she was doing. However, her case gained momentum during the rise of the #metoo movement. Advocates had shown her case as an example of unreasonable incarceration of a teenage victim of sex trafficking. After receiving much support from celebrities and advocacy groups, she was released from prison.
In July 1863, Harriet Elizabeth McKinley recounted vivid details about Private Perry Pierson raping her. She said, "he dragged me past a post...he tried to make me lay down and I wouldn't... he flung his knee in my back and threw me down." When asked, did Private Pierson "accomplish sexual intercourse with her?" She said, " yes sir, he did!" Lincoln's Lieber code of 1863 brought all southern black women under the umbrella of legal protection. Defining rape as a war crime, which race was not a factor. Mckinley did not hesitate to use protection under the Lieber code to press charges against Private Pierson. Black women had the support from Republican allies at the time. Private Pierson was sentenced "to hard labor for one year" and deprived of pay for 4 months.
For further details, please click the following link Harriet Elizabeth McKinley
McCollum was a wealthy married woman from Live Oak, Florida. She was repeatedly manipulated, abused, and raped by her doctor. He threatened her. So, she was too scared to put up a fight or go against his demands. She thought he would kill her is she did. He further forced her to remove her diaphragm. In do so, he impregnated her twice. She delivered the first baby, but lost the other. She must have gotten fed up with the sexual and physical violence because she murdered het Dr. While on trial, she testified that her Dr. raped her and insisted that she bear his child. The court prevented her defense attorney to present complete facts information about the nature of their relationship. She was only allowed to testify about the events of the murder. The judge imposed a gag order on her to prevent the press from interviewing her. Unfortunately, McCollum was silenced and continues to be silenced. McCollum was convicted of 1st Degree murder and sentenced to death by the electric chair. In a second trial, she declared mentally incompetent to stand trial. She was then committed in the Florida State Hospital until 1972. She died without receiving justice. For further details, please click the following link Ruby McCollum
*Photo Credit: timeline.com
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