Sexual abuse of slaves was a common occurrence in the United States antebellum south. The rape of enslaved women was to increase the slave population and to satisfy the needs of white slave owners. Enslaved women were forced to submit to their master’s sexual advances; if a slave woman became pregnant, this would cause the master’s wife to become outraged. In some cases, the affair tore the master’s family apart, but most women remained with their husbands and made the slave woman’s life unbearable.
One white lady that lived near us at McBean slipped in a colored gal’s room and cut her baby’s head clean off ’cause it belonged to her husband. he beat her ’bout it and started to kill her, but she begged so I reckon he got to feelin’ sorry for her. But he kept goin’ with the colored gal and they had more chillun. — unnamed former slave, enslaved in Georgia, interviewed 1937
An enslaved woman who defended herself against a sexual attack by a White person was subject to cruel beatings. Liaisons between Whites and Blacks were illegal. Slave women, regardless of their age, were viewed as seducers of White men. Black slave women received the harshest punishment if discovered in an affair with a White male, and pregnancy became the evidence of the illegal affair. A “mulatto” baby was the sure indicator of the white master’s infidelity.
However, sexual abuse by white slave owners had a deeper meaning behind it. “Black female flesh was unprotected in the institution of slavery, and the raping of female slaves by slave masters was not only a means of stripping them of physical agency, but a tactic used in order to destroy the social fabric of the entire slave community.” (Putzi,5)
The involuntary impregnation of these women by their slave masters was a reminder of the power dynamic between black women and white men. The power of white slave masters to have sex with their slave women attacked black men indirectly because they were powerless. They could do nothing to stop the violence.
“Raising the Stigma: Black Womanhood and the Marked Body in Pauline Hopkins’s Contending Forces” By Jennifer Putzi