The ruthlessness of the white mobs during the massacre extended to sexual violence. Multiple women were raped over three days, including five who were brave enough to testify to the congressional committee. It’s unsurprising; rape was used as a sadistic form of control over the enslaved. And with a bloodthirsty mob set loose on Memphis, it followed a pattern set for centuries to cement white dominance as Black women were just getting their first taste of freedom. Other societal norms would make it hard for these women to be heard: Black women were portrayed in media as overtly sexual and the idea that these women did not want to have sex would have been unbelievable to many white people.
Rebecca Ann Bloom was one of the women raped during the massacre.
“I had just to give up to them. They said they would kill me if I did not. They put me on the bed, and the other men were plundering the house while this man was carrying on.”
Yet, investigators questioned the women’s testimony, suggesting they could have stopped their attackers if they wanted to. Like every other white perpetrator of the massacre, no one was ever convicted or even charged with a crime. Today, Memphis still has problems with holding rapists accountable, a problem aggravated in recent years by massive backlogs of rape kits in Memphis and across Tennessee. And again, survivors are speaking out. Listen to our third episode of Civil Wrongs, “’They violated my person’: Sexual violence survivors” to hear the story of Samantha Shell, and why she had to wait 20 years before her rapist was arrested.
Cover art credit: Ephraim Urevbu
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