Skip to main content

tv   Lectures in History  CSPAN  December 14, 2014 12:00pm-1:22pm EST

12:00 pm
anything else? >> thank you very much. >> thank you. >> this afternoon, former white house press secretary's from board, reagan, george h w bush, , and obamano administrations talk about the challenges they faced. that is today at four: 20 5 p.m. eastern time here on c-span three's american history tv. >> next martha jones talks about
12:01 pm
the mid-19th century court case of celia, a female slave who killed her owner after repeated sexual assaults. looks at the involvement of her fellow slaves and owners white neighbors in her court case. this is about an hour and 20 minutes. >> today we will continue the discussion we were having, that we began a couple weeks ago, talking about the history of slavery, and in particular, the experiences of slave women. we already had a chance to look at the case of harriet jacobs, one of the best remembered of the slave narratives. there, jacobs introduces us to that dimension of slavery that is exemplified, and we might say central to the experience of slave women and that is sexual violence. we will come back a little bit to talk about jacobs in comparison to our case today, that of celia.
12:02 pm
we also talked about wpa narratives, and one of the things we noticed is the extent to which some issues, including sexual violence -- violence generally, and sexual violence in particular -- was rather muted in the slave narratives. here we have the opportunity to take another pass at this question, to try to see this dimension of slavery through the experience of celia. so, why do i say "try to see this dimension of slavery?" as you have all begun to see in your readings for today, there are many ways in which the record and the evidence upon which we rely to discover, explore, and understands the case of celia is a challenging
12:03 pm
record to make use of. part of our work today will be to talk about the evidence in the celia case, how it is we recover from what is in essence the record of a trial -- rather fragmentary, carefully, but idiosyncratically assembled group of testimonies, written and oral, arguments and conclusions of judges. that, mixed with newspaper reportage, some demographic material like census returns, how we take this fragmentary evidence and try to think in thoroughgoing ways about celia's experience, but also how we have to continue to think critically about the evidence we use, what it can tell us and perhaps what it cannot tell us about celia's story. you all have read melton
12:04 pm
mclaurin's book and that is the popular book length treatment of celia's story, but i want to sketch out that narrative for the group as his of our discussion today. again, this comes as a fragmentary narrative, one driven by the court record, the legal artifact in the case. first, there is very little for us to say about celia's young life. we don't meet her in a formal sense in the historical record until she is how old? do you remember? anybody? 14 years old, right? she is 14 years old when she first appears to us. she is, as we come to understand it, a young in slaved woman in central missouri and she is purchased by robert newsom, a small farmer in the county of callaway, the town of fulton in missouri.
12:05 pm
he purchases celia, and almost from the very moment of that encounter, our story is framed because we learn celia is very soon sexually assaulted, some say even in the journey back to fulton, but certainly very quickly after they arrived at his farm. what is this place to which celia had come? we know that he is a recent widower. in his household are his children, who are now adults. his daughters, as well as a grandson. newsom is a small farmer. this is not a plantation setting. this is not a large scale enterprise. at most in 1850, he owned five in slaved -- enslaved people in
12:06 pm
addition to celia. by 1860, he will own just celia and one other, a man named george we will meet later. he is typical in missouri. he makes his way as a subsistence farmer, raising crops and foodstuffs for his family, but also livestock. there is some suggestion he is also a producer of whiskey. but celia arise not to do agricultural work, not to do farm labor, but she comes to do domestic labor in the house, but part of what we know it's over the next five years she will become regularly and frequently the target of newsom's sexual assaults. newsom will build a small cabin for celia 60 paces from his home. 60 paces. far away, but not too far away, as we will learn, for him to visit regularly.
12:07 pm
she will come to live there, herself, with then one and another child that she will bear. children that were likely fathered by newsom himself. children we come to know as vine and jane, later on in the story, and in 1855, celia is again pregnant for the third time. as the record explains, celia tells people she is sick. she is pregnant again. whether sick is a metaphor for pregnant, she is having a difficult pregnancy. it is clear celia does not want to abide or acquiesce going forward to newsom's sexual advances. the first thing she will do is speak to newsom's daughters. she asks the women in his household to intervene on her behalf, to in some way speak to
12:08 pm
their father and see if he won't desist from assaulting her, but they have no success, it seems. and then celia has her own confrontation with newsom, here for our purposes, the core of the story. she advises him -- do not come to see me. i do not want to have sexual relations with you. i will not have sexual relations with you. still, on a june night in 1865, newsom will come those 60 steps from his home to her cabin, he will confront her, speak to her, approach her in what is, in celia's my, a suggestion he will sexually assault her, and celia defends herself.
12:09 pm
she picks up a club. she strikes him once, again, and perhaps many times until he falls unconscious and dead in her cabin. what do you do if you are celia? what do you do? when she tells the story, for a while, she is stunned. she has not anticipated, has not intended to kill him, but now she realizes he is dead. the question now becomes, how should she deal with that fact? we know that she attempts to conceal the evidence.
12:10 pm
she will take newsom's body, which it into the fireplace of her cabin, soak the fire, and over the next six hours, she will attempt to dispose of the evidence of what transpired. so much so, that by the next morning, very little is left. ashes, bone fragments, but celia is confident enough that she has concealed her act that is morning breaks, she continues about the ordinary routine of the household. she makes her way to the kitchen to begin to prepare breakfast for the newsom family. newsom's children awake. their father is missing, and a search begins for newsom. it takes two major phases. initially's newsom's children
12:11 pm
searched the farm itself. perhaps he had an accident. neighbors join, and the questioning begins. the informal, but important interrogation of people on the farm, one of whom is newsom's grandson, who relates he helped celia distribute the ashes of her fire on the path leading to the stable on the farm, and george, the enslaved man owned by newsom. george relates -- we will come back to his testimony -- relates that perhaps they want to search in the vicinity of celia's cabin. celia herself, as we know, progressively tells a story. initially she denies any understanding of newsom's whereabouts, what might have happened to him.
12:12 pm
she then begins to piecemeal tell a story. the consequences of her act are grave, as we know. she begins to tell a story, first about newsom having put his head through the window and having struck him, his disappearing into the night, but eventually it seems, particularly under duress, under the threat that in fact she may be separated from her children, celia reveals to these neighbors, local farmers that have come to investigate the whereabouts of newsom, she reveals to them out of earshot of the newsom children, she reveals she struck him dead and disposed of his body in the fireplace. we can follow the story then as it makes its way through the now legal frame.
12:13 pm
there is an inquest. these local neighbors who appeared before the investigation, newsom's children, and celia herself will all give testimony before a local grand jury, leading to the formal indictment of celia for newsom's murder. there will be a trial. again, many of these parties will come forward, with one exception. do you remember who does not testify at the trial? who does not testify? celia herself does not testify at the trial, because pursuant to missouri law, as is typical in the united states in the mid-19th century, no defendant is given the opportunity to give testimony at trial. a defendant in 19th-century legal culture is deemed to be too self interested.
12:14 pm
many parties we have become familiar with do testify, and they do tell in a sense, celia's story, celia's version of events. one thing that becomes clear. while there are facts in dispute and we will come back to a couple of them, the core of celia's story is never in dispute. there is never a question about her relationship to newsom, the long-standing sexual abuse to which she has been subjected, and even how with her third child she has become sick and has tried to avoid and fend off newsom's sexual advances, even before striking him with the club. this story, this is celia's own story, one we see in parts adopted by the local farmers who investigated the case, by the members of the newsom's family, and ultimately by the court. this narrative is one on which everyone comes to agree. celia is ultimately found guilty by a local jury. we will come back to the jury dynamics in our discussion.
12:15 pm
she is sentenced to death by hanging. there is a curious interlude, that i think we know too little about still. celia is secret -- secreted out of the jail and avoids the initial hanging date because she has been secreted out of the jail and taken to a hiding place.
12:16 pm
who is responsible for that is one of the mysteries of celia's case, but we know ultimately she is returned to the jail. a new execution date is set. the state court of appeals hears preliminarily the possibility of celia's appeal. celia's lawyers ask if the high court will stay or postpone an execution temporarily until there is a formal review of the legal proceedings in the trial court, and the answer is no. the high court sees no legal merits, no likelihood that celia will prevail on appeal. they permit her execution to go forward, and on december 1, 1855, she is hanged in fulton, missouri. so, i want to come back with you today to revisit this case through some of the themes we have been developing over the course of the last week, come back to celia, as its own story, but also a window into the experience of slave women, the role of sexual assault in the context of slavery, but also to look at the ways in which law and the ways in which legal
12:17 pm
culture play a critical role here in 1850's missouri. judges, lawyers, grand juries, multiple jurors, investigators, witnesses, all playing a critical role in determining, if you will, in framing how we might interpret celia's story, how we might come to conclude whether celia was justified. right? remember, the case turns on was celia entitled to assert self-defense when she acted to put off this man, to resist his sexual assault? was she entitled to that sort of
12:18 pm
self defense in the face of the imminent harm that newsom was surely going to force upon her as he had before, or as an enslaved woman, was celia without recourse? we know in life she has recourse. but before the law, does she have recourse? those will be the questions. three questions. first, i want to come back to harriet jacobs. jacobs is perhaps the best remembered of enslaved women. she is so well remembered in part because she pens an extraordinary narrative, the book we come to know as "incidents in the life of a slave girl," published under the pen name linda brent. we saw that as a form of testimony, complicated
12:19 pm
testimony. filtered through jacobs's own concerns about her reputation as a free black woman when she publishes this narrative. filtered through anti-slavery politics. but we read, you will recall, very carefully to discern the way that jacobs allows us to glimpse something of the persistence, the presence of sexual assault, the threat of sexual assault in slave women's lives. remember in her story, dr. flint, the pseudonym for the father of jacobs's owner, the way in which this man in his household in edenton, north carolina over the course of years, threatens, confronts, promises -- almost promises,
12:20 pm
right? to ultimately have access to jacobs's body, to have sexual relations with her. she lives under this threat. it is so present in her life, we know in the broad strokes, she will ultimately secret herself away for a dramatic seven years in the attic of her grandmother's home until she is finally able to make her way north into freedom. how do we compare these two stories? jacobs on one hand and celia on the other? in what ways should we compare them? in what ways are the stories similar stories, and in what way are they contrasting stories? yeah, katie. >> [indiscernible]
12:21 pm
that jacobs and celia had, at least jacobs had her grandmother and other family members. and was in sort of this not so isolated area where her grandmother had the ability to protect her and she could appeal to her white lover to protect her, but celia did not have that. she had george maybe. >> [indiscernible] she didn't really have any role models to look up to. and given the fact that she was so much more isolated in her environment. >> good.
12:22 pm
what about other folks? how would you compare these two women? these artifacts i put up, not by accident. on the left you have the title page from jacobs's book. on the right, we have a justice of the peace's writing of celia's testimony. but -- i think maybe i have -- that was not it. here. down on the right, you can see the x. are there differences? yeah, andrea? >> [indiscernible] celia couldn't. she would have added different outcome for a trial or not. >> good. >> harriet jacobs was obviously written by herself, so her story we kind of know.
12:23 pm
celia's story is what we know from court cases and testimonies, which can be questionable. >> the question of literacy. i will come back to the question of isolation. i think literacy and isolation may be two ways in which we can think about dramatically, not only the way these stories unfold, but the capacity to tell them or remember them. jacobs is literate, even if she is an enslaved woman in north carolina. we remember this becomes part of the drama between her and dr. flint, precisely because part of his terror is to pass her notes.
12:24 pm
yeah, siobhan? >> i saw a similarity between them. one thing i noticed, i feel like they really did not have anything to lose except when it came to their children. jacobs, she could have stayed in that attic, if it was not for the safety of her children. and for celia, it was not until the interrogator was threatening her children that she felt she had to cave in. so, i honestly believe if it were not for them having children, they would have done anything to get out of the situation. >> very good. we have two notes of difference and one important piece of singularity. we will come back to that. coming back to the literacy question, we know that jacobs to have the capacity to read and write and this plays a role, perhaps we would say in her capacity to have a critical consciousness, whether it is her own ability to read the notes of dr. flint or to read the bible
12:25 pm
and develop a critique of slavery and the conditions under which she lived. jacobs is someone for whom literacy played a key role in her lifetime, and for us as historians, we know that her literacy is an extraordinary consequence, because we not only have her narrative, but we have her correspondence over many years. we are able to uncover, in a sense, a kind of nuance for harriet jacobs that eludes us in celia's case. even in her testimony, her confession, we realize that this
12:26 pm
text has come through very complex channels before it comes to us. celia narrates the story. a justice of the peace listens to the story, writes his own interpretation, if you will, of her words. and then celia signs it with an x, but we are right to be skeptical about this sort of artifact, precisely because we know celia herself could not read and review the document, even though the x suggests she somehow assented to its content. we know literacy is a piece. a number of you mentioned isolation. isolation in celia's story takes a number of forms, doesn't it? jacobs lives in a small town where she has regular access -- we will come back to her family,
12:27 pm
but even in the intercourse of her day-to-day life, with free african-americans, other white people in edenton, jacobs has a kind of world that becomes critical to understanding how she resists the doctor and ultimately how she escapes. it is that proximity to other people. celia, by contrast, you are absolutely right. what her life was like in audrain county, we can't say. we do not know. we certainly know when she makes that brief migration to fulton and to the farm, she is clearly without family, without acquaintances, and the isolation of that farm, many miles from downtown fulton means she does not have the access to allies,
12:28 pm
to information, to resources that jacobs herself had. that is most vividly underscored by the question of family. we know the role that family plays, the powerful role that family plays for harriet jacobs, her grandmother and her uncle, who not only provide psychological support, but they are buttresses for jacobs's critique of her own condition. she has these kind of family interlocutors who are critical to her developing critique and her resistance to dr. flint over time. again, celia, unclear. five slaves in that household in 1850. only two, celia and george, by the time newsom is killed. what sort of community would that have been for celia?
12:29 pm
a modest one. perhaps one that was profoundly transient. we see enslaved people there and then disappear. were they sold? did they run away? we can't know. but transient. we can see the relationship with george and how that was immodest and perhaps a somewhat impoverished context to jacobs. siobhan pointed to the context that they are both mothers. motherhood is a theme we have come back to again and again. we see two women who clearly -- on one hand, jacobs secrets herself, looking not only to secure her own liberty away from north carolina, but thinking very strategically about how to
12:30 pm
secure the liberty of her children. which, eventually she will achieve. celia on the other hand, with two small children, and there is that moment that seems to be the case she gives herself up in a futile, but still powerful attempt to deflect the threat that if she won't tell the story, she will be separated from her children. motherhood, right, and the fate of the children, the fate of one's relationship to one's children -- i think -- is that what you were getting at, siobhan? >> yes. >> this is a powerful similarity. here, on one hand, we might
12:31 pm
think about celia and harriet jacobs as two very powerful narratives, both of which speak to the pervasiveness, the terrible duress that is -- that sexual assault disproportionately visited on slave women. these are two powerful examples. but as we have also said across the semester our work is partly not to collapse or reduce all slave women, all black women to one experience, and we can appreciate the comparison the ways in which time and place and circumstances are essential to explaining how it is that for jacobs, freedom, liberation comes by way of hiding by way of fugitive status by way of writing, and for celia, in a sense, liberty comes through
12:32 pm
force, that club, that violent confrontation. two responses to what one might say at the core is a shared experience, and at the same time, an experience framed differently and has, as we know, vastly different outcomes. so, we are going to shift now. part of the way we have been talking about celia's case, particularly in how we compare her experience to harriet jacobs's, and it allows us to talk about the social world and a very open-ended and ambitious way. here, i want to shift to underscore the way that once
12:33 pm
celia's story, once celia's case enters the legal culture, the frame shifts and becomes much more narrow, more specialized, more determined by the strictures or the questions of investigators, of judges, of lawyers than by the whole of human experience. while there are things we may know, i want to talk a little bit about how we approach the evidence, if you will, and how legal culture thinks about the evidence. we're going to look at the transcriptions of some of the material from celia's trial record. i want to pause at this juncture to give appreciation to a former u of m graduate, alison. she wrote a senior thesis, and
12:34 pm
excellent senior thesis, on the history of the memory of the celia case. allison transcribed the trial record, the manuscript material, and it is her transcriptions we will look at over the next few minutes. you all will appreciate allison, i know, as we wrestle with transcribing the letters of sarah douglas. allison spent a year, first transcribing and then analyzing this material and she continues today to work on the celia case, as a jd phd student at yale. what we have in the record are some testimonies prior to the trial, some of the inquest, some of the figures, local farmers who have come to the newsom farm, have talked to celia, have talked to the family, have talked to george. they have provided sworn statements to the inquest body on whether or not celia should
12:35 pm
be indicted for murder. so, here, william powell, who we know is a local farmer, tells us something of what we know about this, i think, important, but again, hard to figure out figure, and that is george. i do not know about you, but after i read celia's case for the first time, george is one of the most intriguing, important, but difficult to situate figures. and you read some of his story and melton mclaurin's interpretation of george, but today we will come back to the evidence and i will ask you how you think we should understand the role of george in the story based upon the testimony we have.
12:36 pm
here we have william powell -- a local farmer. he is relating his confrontation with george, the day after newsom disappeared. "i asked his negro boy george where he thought he was. he stated that he did not believe it was worthwhile to hunt for him anywhere except close around the house. for he had reasons to believe he was not far off. i told him he had better go and show us the old man, if he knew where he was. he stated he believed the last walking yet done was along this
12:37 pm
path." that is the path between celia's cabin and the house. "i believed that he had been destroyed -- or killed -- in the cabin." here we have powell. george has not given a statement at this point of the preceding. we hear his words filtered through powell's ideas, but we have the suggestion that what? that george has somehow, if not implicated celia, he has certainly implicated celia's cabin, right? as the site of newsom's demise, and as we know, this will lead powell and others to more seriously scrutinize the area around celia's cabin, but more to more closely scrutinize celia herself. this is what precedes the confrontation with celia. powell also testifies at trial, and in the record we have a transcription of his oral testimony. here, on cross examination -- which is to say as he is being examined by the attorneys for celia, he again speaks of george.
12:38 pm
"i went into the cookhouse where celia was. i told her she knew where her master was, that george had said enough to make the believe she knew where he was. she denied it." now george is even more deeply implicated, even more deeply implicated. powell is now relating again his interpretation, his memory of his first confrontation with
12:39 pm
celia in the kitchen. he says, i told her she knew where her master was, that george and set enough to make me believe she knew where he was. that is not exactly what he told us just prior that george said. george said something about celia's cabin, but you can see how powell and others investigating this case begin to discern that between celia and george might be a space in which they can insert some doubt, insert some confusion that might net them more evidence, might even net them a confession. so, beginning to play celia and george off one another in a sense and embellishing, perhaps, what george has said to him.
12:40 pm
but celia remains resolute that she had nothing to do with this. finally, jefferson jones -- you will remember he is a neighboring farmer, a large farmer in fulton. his farm is adjacent to that of the newsom family. he is one of the first people outside the family itself on the scene and his testimony plays important role both in the indictment of celia and importantly in her conviction. jones is also a slaveholder in fulton. at trial he testified -- "said he was standing in the middle of the room when she struck him." this is celia.
12:41 pm
"i asked her whether she had told anyone that she intended to kill the old man." jones has a theory that perhaps there is a modest conspiracy afoot. he has a theory that this is perhaps premeditated. "she said that she never had. i told her that george had run off, and that she might as well tell if he had anything to do with killing the old man. she said that george need not have run off, for he knew nothing about it. i asked if george had advised her to kill the old man." another theory. not only that she had premeditated, but it was george who told her to kill newsom. "she said she never had, said that george had told her that he would have nothing more to do with her if she did not quit the old man. she said that george had been
12:42 pm
staying with her." yes? >> i feel like he pressured her to have no other option but to kill the master. [indiscernible] is it the first kid by the master, the second kid she was unsure, right? >> we are probably most unsure about celia's third child. she is pregnant at this moment, and there is an open question about whether that child was father by newsom or george. there is a strong suggestion there is an intimate relationship between george and celia. this notion that george has urged celia that she should avoid newsom. it is possible that there is a more filial kind of relationship, that they are
12:43 pm
friends like brother and sister, and george is looking out for celia's best interests, but it seems more likely that he had been staying with her, that they had an intimate relationship of a sort, and there is no question when we get to the testimony of jones that celia herself is reinforcing the theory that certainly george played a role in the story, although she is quite resolute still, even here in her confrontations with jones, that george has not advised her to harm newsom, did not conspire with her to kill newsom, did not have a physical hand in harming newsom or disposing of the body. he goes on "struck with the right hand on the right side of his head. i asked her if george had not struck the old man from behind.
12:44 pm
she said, he did not." again, jones has pressed this theory that george has a role and celia remains consistent throughout many opportunities she has to tell her own story, she remains resolute that george did not have a role. when i look back on this testimony and i ask myself, why do i still have questions about george? i think there is no fact -- he's only if this is true for you -- there is no fact that is more provocative, that one in which jones tells celia that george has run off. do you have a reaction to this notion that george has apparently, according to jones, run off? how might we interpret george running off at this juncture?
12:45 pm
why do you think that shapes my initial impression of george? yeah? >> [indiscernible] i don't know. it just made it seem like he did have something to do with it or he was guilty of something, and for me, it was kind of messed up if him and celia are together, why would he point out that mr. newsom was at her cabin? if it was me, i would probably be like, i don't know. i have no idea. maybe he was over with the chickens or something. i would not point her out like that. that is very weird about george. >> i mean --
12:46 pm
>> what -- can you point to something? is there something in this testimony or other of the testimony that leads you --celia tells you over and over again that she did not. why do you think that? >> he ran away when the master died. that is pointing out that you are guilty. he did not run away when the master was there, but he dies and, oh, george left. she would need help from a man. i feel like slaves back then, i guarantee that she feared her master, so i think that george helped her out.
12:47 pm
>> all right, i see a lot of hands. i'm going to work my way across the room. go ahead. >> [indiscernible] some type of help. put him in the fire at least. for any man, like any man in slavery, i would think this man is sexually abusing my girl, and hey, you can't do anything about it, but when i have the opportunity, i'm pretty sure -- somebody will react to it. he is dead now and no one wants to get caught, so i will help my girl get rid of the body. >> good. siobhan. i am coming this way. siobhan. >> i think everyone was to believe that a woman is not strong enough to have the power to kill him.
12:48 pm
i think what the court is trying to do, i think they have already established the threat of a black man. how strong and aggressive they assume he is. but for a black woman to have that power to kill a master would just be a whole other issue. i think what the court is trying to do is justify the situation, saying it was a strong, aggressive black slave man who did it versus a slave woman that did it. i think with george -- he already threw her under the bus anyway. at that point when she was in the court, she had a chance to get revenge on him it she wanted to -- if she wanted to. she might say anything to get out of the situation. so, at that point, he really was at the mercy of celia.
12:49 pm
so, i feel like for self-preservation, he did the best thing for himself by running away. >> ok. regarding to come to molly. >> [indiscernible] it doesn't make sense. i guess he was covering for her. it does seem to me like -- i guess celia was about my age. i do not think i could pull the dead body of a old man. especially she was pregnant. >> [indiscernible] i don't know. i think you would be capable of pulling a dead body if you had to. in terms of george, i think celia felt like she needed him out of the case. she was very attached to her children and there were only two black adults at this family farm. so, if he was convicted, too, there would be no one to watch her children. i can't imagine what she would
12:50 pm
feel like if they told her that he ran, because where would the children go? and i don't feel like that was ever really believed. >> ok. got one here. >> since they were the only to adult slaves -- we do not know if they had a relationship, but if they did, he would be the only "family" she had and i think she would've done anything to protect him even if he had been involved and he had run away. >> i mean -- if he did run away -- i do not think that implies guilt necessarily because there are only two slaves on this farm.
12:51 pm
that is just the way the system of slavery works. i do not think they would have seen george innocent anyway. i think he would have run away to save himself and that does not necessarily hide guilt. that imply guilt. that fear is still really prevalent today. people who don't really, like, have the means to represent themselves in court tend to do things because they feel like they have no other option. it makes them look way worse, but it does not necessarily mean they are guilty. and also, they kind of say things that are not necessarily true when they are investigating to get the responses they want. so, this also could have been something jefferson jones was saying. look, george ran away. it is all on you.
12:52 pm
we want you to tell us everything you know. you are the only one left and we are going to pin it on you. that was just a way to get a confession out of her. >> good. couple more? >> everyone has different ideas, but i just question that -- she -- it took her, like, six hours to get everything clean. where was george? could he possibly have came home and not seen that happened? he could have known that she did it, so it made him afraid. so he left. and he did not want to have anything to do with it. >> good. lindsay, one more? >> i'm curious. why would there have been a fire in her cabin in june?
12:53 pm
i don't know, i'm just kind of like -- >> the fire in the cabin? cooking, first and foremost. not unusual for them to have a fire, although the quantity of ashes turns out to be a little suspicious. i'm going to move on. but this is good. i'm glad to know that you all by reading this share some of my initial unsettledness about the role of george. let's remember all we have in terms of evidence are the testimonies of those neighboring farmers who narrate for us what they say george said, what they say celia said.
12:54 pm
and so, it would be a mistake, i think, to have too much confidence in this testimony. we have this sense, even from this little testimony, the ways in which these investigators are twisting, embellishing, emphasizing some facts in an effort to extract confessions, here in an effort to secure a conviction. as readers, as historians we read this with caution, right? just because jones tells us that george has run off -- look at what he says. "i told her that george had run off." he doesn't say george had run off. "i told her that george had run off."
12:55 pm
and we're not surprised in the telling of that, true or false, is an effort to break celia down and encourage her to implicate george. just for the reasons you suggest, right? it could be read as george having abandoned celia in this extraordinary moment. how do we deal with this as historians? that is to say, it is powerful testimony. it is provocative testimony. it certainly shapes our ideas, our perceptions of what transpires and the role that george played. as we have done in other examples, we have to think critically and one way to do that is to look for new evidence. to look for alternative evidence
12:56 pm
that might help us fill in some of the blanks, right? piece together the puzzle of george. so, you all know last weekend -- was it even last weekend? it was last wednesday, i spent the day with the celia project working group working on the history of the celia case and we visited fulton, missouri. one of the places we visited was the kingdom of callaway historical society, where they do not have the trial record, and we already have the trial record from the court archives, but they had the estate records of robert newsom. why was this interesting? we know that he was killed in june of 1855, but it would be necessary for his heirs and the legal representatives of his estate to take an inventory to accumulate all his assets and all of his debts and give his -- distribute his estate to his various heirs, children and grandchildren and the like.
12:57 pm
and the records of that legal proceeding, which is in a sense a companion outside of the prosecution of celia for murder, those court records have also survived. the originals are there in the kingdom of callaway inventory. i know you cannot see it here, but toward the bottom here is the inventory of slaves in the household. there is one negro man, george, valued at $900. so, george had not disappeared at all. when it comes time to inventory the estate, we find george, and when we continue through the record, we find george was sold. he was sold to a slaveholder in
12:58 pm
nearby celine county for more than he was valued, $1190. he had not disappeared at all. here, for me, this changes a lot how i read the testimony that comes from the local farmers. they might have said george ran off, but it appears george had not disappeared at all, and george is ultimately as caught up in his own way by the aftermath of newsom's killing as is celia. he is not charged or convicted of newsom's murder, but he is subject to what we come to understand is another of slavery's most harsh practices. he is sold away. he is sold away. from the community he knows, from the household that he knows, from the people he knew best, george now is sold away. and i think it changes, right? it changes how we read that testimony and houses appreciate what a fraud of evidence that
12:59 pm
trial record -- fraught bit of evidence that trial record is. people have layers of stories up on stories -- stories up on stories. unraveling the mystery of the celia case requires us to reach beyond the trial record and read it alongside these other trauma to as a way of perhaps suggesting how celia and george in their own ways were caught in the vice of newsom's abuses. this household they are both caught up in the story in harsh ways. i will come back to this. in the inventory, below george, there are two that other children, and they are celia's children. a girl named jane, who is three years old, and a girl named vining three years old, and jane, one-year-old, both valued at $150 each. i can tell you that when george
1:00 pm
was sold, alongside is the sale of celia's daughters out of the newsom household as well. you a girl named jane, who is three years old, and a girl ney, three years old, and jane, one-year-old, both valued at $150 each. i can tell you that when george was sold, alongside is the sale of celia's daughters out of the newsom household as well. new evidence allows us to add him new layers and think with important nuance about this case. one more important question, he slavery and the law of rape. let's go back to the trial. part of what you know is at the end of this trial, the trial
1:01 pm
judge will instruct the jurors in this case. what does it mean to instruct the jurors? here, jurors are not legal professionals. they don't have special knowledge of the law, be it of rape, murder, self-defense. part of the court's role is at the end of the hearing of the evidence to instruct the jury, to educate the jury, to direct the jury about the law so that jurors can weigh the evidence and ultimately the question of celia's guilt against the law as the court instructs it. i want to look again at the state law and then at the actual jury's instructions in this case. we learn from this the ways in which the powerful role a local judge's interpretation of the
1:02 pm
law, the powerful role that plays in determining celia's fate. celia's lawyers have attempted to introduce evidence and argue that celia, while she killed newsom, is not guilty of first-degree murder. why? because by missouri law, an individual who understands him or herself to be the imminent victim of a felony, to be in imminent fear of bodily harm, has the right to respond to that in self-defense. the argument is celia, while she killed newsom, did so defending herself against newsom's commission of a felony, rape in missouri. here is the statute that is key to determining whether or not
1:03 pm
celia was in fact an imminent fear of being raped. let's read it together. what are the key words here for our consideration? any woman, unlawfully against her will. any woman, unlawfully against her will. how do you read this as it applies to celia? >> that makes the assumption the woman in question has will.
1:04 pm
as a slave, no such role exists. i think that is why the court did not recognize her self-defense claim. >> good. so it is any woman against her will. i think one of the key questions that the court must implicitly resolve for itself before it instructs the jury, is celia a woman with will, a slave woman? slavehe have well as an woman such that she can resist? >> i think that is incompatible with the idea of slavery at the time. it is ok for the slave owner to order something to the slaves. those two things are incompatible. >> here, every person, including newsom, upon conviction. could newsom have been convicted in the same local court for the
1:05 pm
defilement of celia? yes? >> i think it was less about against her will and more about the unlawfully part because i know there was that dehumanization of slaves, but i think the point was more as a slave that she did not have the protection under the law to like, being against her will was counted as rape because she was property. therefore, he could do whatever he wanted. less so about her will and more about whether it was unlawfully against her will. >> excellent close reading. here we have a judge in central missouri in the 1850's who has to read this language and ask himself, what is the state of the law? how should i interpret the law
1:06 pm
in this specific instance? a slaveholding man and a slave woman. is the will of the master absolute such that celia has no will, no will to resist? is the phrase "any woman" implicitly qualified? does it mean any free woman, any white woman? all of these things are questions. in celia's example, are in the hands of a local judge. how does it play out? prior to charging the jury, giving the jury instructions, the judge solicits from lawyers for both sides, the prosecutors and the defense lawyer, their recommendations for charges to be proposed. here is the wonderful manuscript document, which i have not asked
1:07 pm
you to read because we have the excellent transcriptions. this is the jury instruction, one of the jury instructions. the key jury instruction proposed by celia's team. i note this instruction is refused by the judge. he declined to direct the jury in this way. but the defense argues if the jury believes from the evidence celia did kill newsom but the killing was necessary to protect herself against forced sexual intercourse and there was imminent danger of such forced sexual intercourse being accomplished by newsom, they will not find her guilty of murder in the first-degree. here is an interpretation of the law that brings together that statute we looked at with self-defense and makes an
1:08 pm
argument, provides a frame for how the jury might interpret the evidence. this is the argument made by celia's lawyers. what we recognize is this is celia's story, the story she has told over time, bit by bit, but ultimately again and again, is one in which she understood herself to be in imminent danger of a forced sexual encounter with newsom. when she finds herself in such danger, she acts in self-defense, right, not to intentionally kill newsom, but to defend herself against sexual assault. here celia's testimony, here is celia's critique of her circumstances that makes its way into this proposed jury instruction.
1:09 pm
let's look at the instruction the court actually delivers. if newsom was in the habit of having intercourse with the defendant, his slave, and went to her cabin on the night he was killed to have intercourse with her or for any other purpose and while he was standing on the floor talking to her she struck him with a stick which was a dangerous weapon and knocked him down and struck him again after he fell, and killed him by either blow, it is murder in the first-degree. it is extraordinary jury instruction in part because it is so specific to the facts. the court has, by way of the prosecutors' proposal, adopted a version of the law that almost is a blueprint for celia's story, except that the conclusion is counter, absolutely counter to the conclusion the defense team has
1:10 pm
offered. in case the jury is not clear, defendant had no right to kill him because he came to her cabin and was talking to her about having sexual intercourse with her or anything else. or anything else. do you see the way in which in this moment the court, by way of the crafting of jury instructions, is now closing the possibilities? narrows the possibility for the outcome in this trial. very little space in which this jury might maneuver if it otherwise expected to exonerate celia because the court says if she did the act, there is no defense available to her. and we know she did the act. yes, peter. >> [indiscernible] >> was it particular to?
1:11 pm
was it particular to enslaved women, is peter's question. it is a good question. that is not quite a court decision. the jury instruction is powerful and a powerful framing, but the decision is ultimately a verdict of guilty rendered by the jury itself. to your central question, is this particular to celia, to enslaved women? what do you think when you look at the language? what do you think? is this particular to enslaved women or is this an instruction that could be given in the case of any woman? yeah. >> particular to celia.
1:12 pm
we don't know about other women. we would have to look at them. this is so specific to her case. >> we would have to look broadly at other cases. there are other few cases in missouri in this period. we could look at this alongside similar cases in other jurisdictions. part of what we have learned is this is a moment in which not only missouri but other slaveholding states, the most memorable mississippi, are also grappling with the question of rape of enslaved women and concluding this sort of configuration is particular to -- is specific to enslaved women and specific to women not free. there is the qualifier. "the defendant who was his slave." we sense the way the court is bringing in this fact even though it is not expressly provided for in the law,
1:13 pm
developing a kind of common law around slavery and sexual violence. yeah. >> i think the theme in the jury instruction also predates this. the testimony where it was said george ran away, as we can tell, that was false. i think that was because it fed into the social influences we see here. not only does it implicate a black man as being violent, which was a popular image, but also to grant celia's claim of self-defense would also set legal precedent that would have to be recognized not only in the state of missouri but in courts nationwide. that would unravel slavery as being a dehumanizing institution. >> one of the questions this
1:14 pm
choice by the judge leaves us with is, what would be the implications to conclude otherwise? our readings of others have suggested to us the ways in which this sort of story, the circumstance that begins with the sexual assault of the slave woman by an owner, is an all too common story. to open the door to the possibility that enslaved women might be able to formally charge their owners with rape, seek prosecution for sexual assault, and even more so be able to defend themselves, opens the door. it appears to open a door that this court is not willing to open, and i think no court is willing to open in the 1850's.
1:15 pm
a couple more things. i want to end to talk about where we are with the celia case. you have read the 1991 book which popularized celia's story and made it possible for us to teach celia, that the work continues. celia is still not as well remembered as that other 1850's missouri case involving slavery, dred scott versus sanford, the case we have mentioned and many of you know about in which an enslaved man sues for his freedom having been brought to free territory. ultimately decided by the supreme court that he is a slave. the dred scott case is one we study and read and situate in the cannon of slavery and law. celia has not quite made it to that sort of space.
1:16 pm
but there are important local figures who have worked to preserve the memory of celia. i want to point to some of these in closing. in 1995 on the left, you see margaret bush wilson. she's now deceased but was a long-standing and much admired attorney, civil rights attorney, in st. louis, missouri. she learned of celia's story and became much admiring of celia and wanted to work to help remember celia and bring her story to light. she commissioned in the 1990's the portrait you see on the left, an oil portrait of celia done by the artist on the right, solomon thurman, in st. louis who the celia project met this past weekend. we were privileged to meet him and learn more about his work on
1:17 pm
celia's portrait. here is a moment where we have local figures working in important ways to preserve and bring celia's story to light. this portrait hangs briefly in the missouri historical society before it becomes part of margaret bush wilson's personal collection. the poem margaret bush wilson writes, the tribute to celia, gives you a sense of the purpose of her memory for margaret bush wilson. it is on the one hand about restoring that story to visibility, and extracting it from the historical record and bringing it to light. for margaret bush wilson, celia is an inspiration. we take strength from your courage in our own time. as we face strife, we take strength from your courage.
1:18 pm
one interpretation is it inspires us to be courageous in our own lifetimes. in fulton, missouri from about 2005 to 2011 or 2012, local residents gathered on the anniversary of celia's execution to hold a candlelight vigil and pay tribute to her, once again bringing her out from historical obscurity, holding her case up. why celia? these are groups that want to talk about racism in the 21st century, so celia is part of a narrative from racism then, racism today. we still have racism in fulton. celia tells a long story of racism in this local community where she lived and died. finally, there have been two stage productions, one locally
1:19 pm
in fulton and the other in london, england. both dramatizations of celia's story, powerful bringing celia's story to mass audiences. but in both instances, playwrights taking important creative license to give celia words we know she never spoke. from all the records we have, we have no unmediated words of celia. celia's story reaching large audiences of becoming fictionalized. remember we talked about harriet tubman and the hillary clinton moment when she quotes tubman, the dangers of the fictionalization. the celia project with scholars coming back to the case is doing the work of trying to understand these new archives, these additional archival materials that go beyond the court record
1:20 pm
like the newsom estate inventories. we went to the site of the newsom farm. as much as i think i wanted to end by telling you the historians are the bastion of evidence and social science, that we won't get caught up in romance or memory or myth or fiction when it comes to celia, i will leave you to contemplate this scene which is our team on what is now federal land in fulton, the site where the newsom farm stood, the site of this dramatic moment in the life of celia. all that is left are some foundation stones, old trees, and open fields. but here, historians wanting in some sense to walk that walk,
1:21 pm
the 60 paces from the house to the cabin, to in some sense try to inhabit celia's world, to try and be closer in some sense to her and her experience. i think we would all say there was not much evidence here. it was extraordinary, powerful to walk for an afternoon the walk celia had walked those many years ago. we will stop here. when i see you next time, we will continue with this theme of history, memory, and myth by looking at the case of sojourner truth. you will read the extraordinary biography and look at the ways in which painter tries to pull apart history from myth in the life of the extraordinary figure. thank you all very much. have a great day. i will see you all on thursday.

88 Views

info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on