In the book Celia, A Slave by Merton McLaurin the question of slavery and oppression of women is raised. The laws of the land do not protect the women against atrocities committed against them in this patriarchal society. The book is set during the slavery era in America. Therefore, McLaurin tells American history in a very vivid way. He documents how slaves went through oppression and did to have anyone to protect them. The laws could not protect them and often they died while trying to fight for their rights. The events that took place during the landmark trial of Celia preceded the event of the civil war that saw blacks demand equal rights in a country that was founded on the notion that all human beings are equal. This paper will focus on the oppression of slavery in America during the slave trade era.
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Celia a slave is the story of a black slave girl purchased as a slave by Robert Newsom in 1850. Celia eventually murders Newsom, the master as she tries to defend herself against one of his rape ordeals. Celia had endured many instances of sexual abuse from Newsom and in fact, she had conceived twice and given birth to two children. During this time, slavery was legal, slaves were not counted as human beings, and this was a justification for the cruel treatment they went through. Thus, Celia is convicted of the murder of Robert Newsom and found guilty, and sentenced to hang.
Through the trial, we learn more about the position of slaves during that era. They were defenseless and powerless especially the slave women. Her master exposes Celia, to sexual intercourse at the young age of fourteen. This is child abuse as she is still a minor but Newsom uses her as his concubine as he was a widower. She tried to seek help from his daughters but they did not offer her any and because she was desperate to end the affair with her master, she killed him in self-defense. At the trial led by the men of Missouri and John Jameson they try to defend by saying, she has a right to defend herself. They even tried to say that the law of Missouri that protected ‘any woman’ however protected her, this bid failed as a slave woman did not enjoy the protection of the law. Furthermore, the law did not allow slaves to testify against their masters in courts, dead or alive. This meant that Celia could not defend herself effectively in court as the law forbade her already. This shows that slaves could not receive a fair trial even when they had state attorneys appointed for them in capital crimes.
The book also shows a moral dilemma during this era. “The life of Celia demonstrates how slavery placed individuals, black and white, in specific situations that forced them to make and to act upon personal decisions of a fundamentally moral nature” (McLaurin, p. xi). Was Celia not a human being to be protected against a rapist by the law? What could have been the outcome of the trial if the accused was a white woman? Failing to protect the humanity of the slave women shows that the law in Missouri needed to be amended. On the other hand, if Celia were to be found not guilty how would the outcome have affected the relationship between slaves and their masters? Would they have been given an okay to kill their slaves in case of a disagreement?
McLaurin has managed to capture the historical events in America and expose the dark times in America through his well-told story, which gives a lot of insight into the treatment of men and women slaves. The women bore the heaviest blow of slavery compared to the black slave men. On the other hand, the author jumped around with the dates in the book. This makes It made it hard to follow the events in the story and one may get lost in the maze of the events. Furthermore, the book contains many opinions and guesses on how people, at that time, may have perceived what was going on. This does not leave the reader with a concrete opinion instead; the reader is left with many questions about what was real opinion and feelings of the people. Despite the weaknesses noted this is a great book and every person should read it to learn about the American slavery history.
McLaurin, M.A. Celia, a Slave: A True Story. New York: University of Georgia Press, 1991.