Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: McDurmon’s Rejection of Christendom and Embrace of Egalitarianism
Part 3: McDurmon’s Use of Sources
Part 4: The Slave Trade and Slave Breeding
Joel McDurmon alleges that rape of black women by white men was ubiquitous throughout much of American history, and calls Dabney a liar for denying this obvious reality. McDurmon quotes from Dabney’s Defense: “We have caused a thorough search to be made by the most competent authority in Richmond; and while many indictments are found against black men for rape of white women, none exist, in the history of our jurisprudence, against white men for rape of black women. And this, not because there would have been any difficulty in making the indictment lie: but because, as the most experienced lawyers testify, the crime is unheard of on the part of white men amongst us.”1 McDurmon calls this an “astounding claim.” McDurmon suggests that “women in general had little recourse against a conniving man, and black women had virtually none.”2
This argument rests upon the feminist denunciation in “rape culture” in which any relationship in which a woman is subordinate to a man is either considered “rape,” or at least an occasion for rape to occur — all while ignoring actual rape, which doesn’t fit the approved narrative. McDurmon follows this up with an utterly outrageous accusation: “it is easy to make such a claim about one’s courts when such an act was not against the law to begin with. There are also no court cases charging white men with taking a walk in the park, because it was perfectly legal. Yes, raping a black woman, when practiced with minimal circumspection, was just as legal as taking a walk in the park.”3
Was the rape of black women legal? No, it was not. Dabney explains in his Defense, “The laws of Virginia protect the virtue of the female slave by the very same statute which shields that of the white lady, even against her own master. The law of rape, until 1849, used these words: ‘If any man do ravish a woman,’ &c. The act of 1849 used the words: ‘If any white person do carnally know a female of the age of twelve years or more, against her will, by force, or carnally know a female child, under that age,’ &c. (If the ravisher were a negro the penalty was different.) The question is, whether the words ‘a woman,’ and ‘a female,’ were intended to include coloured persons and slaves. The answer uniformly given by Virginian lawyers to this question is affirmative. They say that the terms are the most general in our statutory vocabulary. The law of 1849, just quoted, clearly implies that the terms ‘a female,’ in § 15, are inclusive of coloured females, by expressly introducing the word ‘white,’ ‘a white female,’ in § 16, when its purpose was to enact a special penalty for the forcible abduction of that class. The General Court has held that female is synonymous with woman, and may be substituted for it even in an indictment.”4
McDurmon is aware of these statutes and Dabney’s citation of them, because he draws attention to Dabney’s statement that according to the statute of 1849, “If the ravisher were a negro the penalty was different” – which McDurmon considers hypocritical and unjust. Regardless of the inequity of the statute of 1849, rape of any woman, irrespective of race and station, was clearly against the law as written and interpreted in Virginia. Similar laws existed in other states as well. A major theme of McDurmon’s book is that the laws of America have historically been unjust towards blacks. McDurmon suggests that the laws allowed whites to attack, rape, and even murder blacks with virtual impunity.
McDurmon’s next move is to concede that all these crimes against blacks were illegal at least on paper, but maintain that the legal standing of blacks prevented these laws from ever being enforced. This argument rests on an unwarranted assumption that laws were passed without any intention that they should be enforced, however imperfectly. McDurmon actually contradicts his own argument when he mentions, “In at least one Louisiana case in 1865, the complaints of three former slave women landed two perpetrators in jail. For their sexual assaults while drunk, the two men received the relatively lenient penalty of $15 fines (roughly $300 today) due to previous ‘good character.’”5 Even if the penalty assessed in this case was too lenient, it demonstrates that Southerners actually did enforce laws against rape, even in regards to black women.
Slaveholding was mostly practiced by the wealthy landowners, who in turn tended to the most actively involved in politics and crafting the laws of their state governments. If these men wanted to, they could have entirely omitted any legal protections for slaves or free blacks, but they did not. The fact that robbing, attacking, raping, and killing blacks was illegal lends credence to the idea that the general body politic considered these abuses to be morally wrong. It makes no sense to argue that laws were passed merely for the sake of appearance if violations of these laws were as rampant and excused as McDurmon suggests. McDurmon’s argument is suspiciously akin to those who argue that traditional Western patriarchal culture is a manifestation of “rape culture” in which sexual assault was ubiquitous. The chivalric ethos of the Antebellum South was that raping defenseless women was dishonorable.
Molecular anthropology is also useful in dispelling the myth of rampant white-on-black rape during slavery. Mark D. Shriver of Penn State University conducted a study on 3,000 individuals from different location within the United States. In an age before 23andMe and AncestryDNA, Shriver’s team were able to determine the amount of European and African DNA present in different populations. Shriver discovered that few white Americans have any African DNA, and those that do have very little to almost none. Shriver’s study also determined that blacks in America have mostly African DNA, which isn’t particularly surprising. What was interesting about Shriver’s study was that blacks had a lower percentage of European DNA than previous estimates suggested, and the lowest admixture of European DNA comes from blacks living in the Deep South.
The Gullahs of South Carolina and Georgia have the lowest admixture, with the remainder of the Deep South being only slightly higher. The highest admixture of European DNA in blacks is to be found in the Pacific Northwest in areas which practice more liberal attitudes in regards to racial identity. This suggests that the stigma against racial mixing was indeed strong in the South where slavery was practiced. If rape were as common as McDurmon and mainstream liberal academics suggest, then we would expect there to be a high percentage of European DNA present in black populations, since the mixed offspring rarely married back into the white population because of the general desire of whites to remain distinct.
Finally, we can infer that the fear of black-on-white rape by Americans living in the nineteenth century was based upon reality, since black-on-white rape is a recurring reality today. Black rape of white women is both rampant and targeted. Is it likely that white men have suddenly become drastically less likely to rape than their immediate ancestors in the nineteenth century? This is highly improbable, especially given the context that Christian morality has generally declined since then. It also equally unlikely that black men have suddenly become drastically more depraved in regards to rape than they were in the nineteenth century. The most sensible explanation of interracial rape statistics is that nineteenth-century whites had every reason to fear interracial rape. Dabney’s argument is far closer to the truth than McDurmon’s outrageous lie that white men raping black women was just as ordinary as “taking a walk in the park.” While slave women did not necessarily enjoy the legal protections that McDurmon believes they ought to have had, the idea that slave women or black women in general were routinely raped – much less routinely legally raped – is a leftist myth.
The next article will continue to address McDurmon’s slanders against white slave-owners. We will examine McDurmon’s allegations about the separation of slave families, as well as his claims about systematic injustice against blacks.
- Dabney, Defense of Virginia, And Through Her of The South, 233 cited in McDurmon, Joel. The Problem of Slavery in Christian America (Kindle Locations 8783-8788). American Vision Press. Kindle Edition. ↩
- McDurmon, Joel. The Problem of Slavery in Christian America (Kindle Locations 8790-8791). American Vision Press. Kindle Edition. ↩
- McDurmon, Joel. The Problem of Slavery in Christian America (Kindle Locations 8797-8800). American Vision Press. Kindle Edition. ↩
- Dabney, Defense, 233. Dabney cites, Code, 1819, p. 585, Ch. 158., Code, 1849, p. 725, Ch. 191, § 15., Burnett’s case, 2 Va. cases, 235. And this was an indictment for rape. ↩
- McDurmon, Joel. The Problem of Slavery in Christian America (Kindle Locations 8880-8882). American Vision Press. Kindle Edition. ↩