Article review on Interracial Rape cases in North Carolina (1837-1856): A Socio-Historical Perspective





Article review on Interracial Rape cases in North Carolina (1837-1856): A Socio-Historical Perspective

In the article, Shawn Riva Donaldson examines the concept of rape during slavery in North Carolina and how rape was distinguished on the basis of the race of the offender and the victim. According to the article, while dealing with rape cases, the common law upheld the supremacy of the white male first and the supremacy of the white race second. The rape suits against master white males by female slaves were non-existent and when it involved violent attacks by other white men who were not the masters, they were mostly treated as property damage (page 12). The scope of rape across races is analysed on the basis of rape cases presented to the North Carolina Supreme Court and how the verdict were passed in the favour of the white males and the white race. The subject of rape during the days of slavery is examined in the sense of the popular southern sentiment of slavery whereby the slave was meant for servitude and toiling so that the white race would reap he fruits. The white master or hirer owned the slave and so all the rape cases discussed upheld this social status (page 14). 

In the introduction part of the article, Shawn Riva Donaldson uses the construct of the slavery system to describe the uncontested supremacy of the white male and the white race as upheld by the common law. Shawn introduces the article by saying that the law firstly protected white males and the white race and so all the rape cases would be according to this common law (page 3). The existing social and economic stratification during the time of slavery was of the utmost concern and so the rape cases were determined in ways that could not threaten this stratification. The article also uses the social perspective of slaves and their functions in the society as described by poet William Grayson. Using the perspective of the poet, the author evokes the readers to view the slave as just a vehicle of attaining riches without considering the human qualities of the person (page 4). Lastly, in order to prove the position of salves in the society, the author cites the position of chief justice Ruffin on the non-status of slaves and why the common law always found the white masters not guilty (page5).

Shawn uses historical analysis of court records on cases that involved interracial rape and how they were determined. The author also uses historical analysis to analyse the spectrum of legal and social issues during the time of slavery. While discussing the rape cases, the author cites legislation and various statutes that formed the basis of the incarceration of the slaves and the decision to find the white race not guilty. For example, statute 1823 was used to form the basis of the State vs. Jesse case. The author also uses excerpts and quotes from the judges that deliberated on the cases to draw on the evidence for the support of the thesis. There is the use of court records, evidence and statements to analyse the social and historical perspectives of the court cases (page 9).  


The evidence that Shawn provides shows that the law always protected the interests of the white race and particularly white males in rape cases. Rape cases were determined mostly on the basis of race firstly without considering other factors. For instance, in the State vs. Jesse case, the defendant was sentenced to death even after he was cleared of the attempted rape allegation and the defence argued that the defendant was only 14 years old and so was a minor. These two factors were not considered and he was sentenced to death just because the assault and rape allegation was said to have been committed by a black male. According to the evidence provided in the article, evidence given by a slave on behalf of himself in North Carolina was not considered as evidence as shown in the State vs. Jefferson case (page 9). The evidence shows that slaves were prosecuted firstly because of their race and the offence they were considered to have committed without considering the offences of the white males. In the case of State vs. Jim, the author showed that the white female did not hold the same supremacy position as that of the white male and so the white female was denied the right to testify in a case against a black slave (page 11). The evidence provided in the article therefore supports the thesis that the common law upheld the supremacy of the white males and white race and that slaves had no status. 

The style of narration and evidence in this article prove the thesis provided by Shawn. The article implies that during the time of slavery in North Carolina, the legal definition of rape was primarily determined on the basis of the race of the offender and that of the victim. As shown in the four different cases, the common law was used to uphold the economic and social stratification that saw the whites as masters as supreme and the blacks as slaves with no status. The author does an excellent job in showing how the social and legal system during slavery was biased in the basis of colour. The author uses this article to shed more light into how the legislation and the judiciary system in addition to the social constructs supported slavery and the separation of races.  


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