Step One: Don’t talk about race. Don’t point out skin color. Be “color blind.”
Step Two: Actually, that’s it. There is no Step Two.
This information and analysis was compiled elsewhere, not by me. The majority of the information comes from the thirteen-volume report of the Joint Select Committee established by Congress in 1871 to “inquire into the condition of affairs in the late insurrectionary states”.
“The Klan Report” contains dozens of accounts, many of them firsthand, of men and women of both races who were the objects of sexual terror. (If you are uncomfortable with descriptions and analysis of racial and sexual terrorism, you probably don’t want to read any further.)
The utility of the Report is further enhanced by the fact that testimony, substantial portions of which are confirmed by external sources, was elicited across a wide spectrum of southern society, from the humblest freedpeople to the most esteemed planters and politicians.
An illustrative example from one of South Carolina’s major Ku Klux Klan trials evokes something of the texture and meanings that may be gleaned from the historical record of these atrocities.
Arguing for the defense, Cyrus Melton seeks to vindicate his client by employing a familiar courtroom tactic – refuting guilt through emotive reference to the heinousness of the crime alleged. With studied disbelief, he queries “Was ravishing helpless women a part of this conspiracy?”
“We have had here, from women, details of the most disgusting character, put forward for the purpose of showing from this act that ravishing women was one of the purposes of this organization. Now, I ask you, do you believe it, and that there did exist upon the face of God’s earth an organization which would have among its purposes that of committing these gross outrages upon helpless women?”
While he plainly oversimplified the prosecution’s position for rhetorical effect, it is nonetheless true that the KKK and its imitators purposefully resorted not only to rape, but to an entire spectrum of sexual crime as a means of advancing their agenda. Whereas Melton depicts the “ravishing” of freedwomen as an unintended, even regrettable, consequence of klansmanship, I contend that sexual terror was in actuality among the KKK’s most starkly defining features, designedly effected to compromise the stability, resolve, and selfhood of the newly freed slaves at the same time it punished their white “accomplices” as traitors to their race, thereby denying them the privileges of color that would otherwise have accrued.
A. Group Sexualized Whipping
Of the thousands of physical assaults perpetrated by the Reconstruction-era Klan, whipping was by far the most commonplace.
Klansmen exercised little restraint in these attacks, subjecting men, women, and children of all ages and colors to brutal lashings that resulted in the deaths of many and serious injury to countless more.
While it would be an overstatement to assert that all, or even most, of these attacks were unambiguously sexual in nature, it is fair to say that even“ordinary” klan whippings often bore a distinctly sexualized cast.