Upon entering America, slaves endured constant pressures under the rule of their cruel masters. Male and female slaves were oppressed under equally mortifying, yet different conditions. They were impaired by a vast array of obstacles, which not only limited them from living a stable life, but also from creating a steady family.
Women, who were sometimes treated as roughly as men, struggled to create families (Franklin and Schweninger 13). As Carolyn J. Powers notes, there was a “tragic impact of sexual dynamic of slavery upon slave women” and “slave masters could abuse and violate women with virtual impunity in private” (qtd in Morton 58). “The intervention of a master in a female slave’s sex life was viewed as an intrusion on the sexual life of the family” (Morton 262). The master’s interference in the sexual life of the slave women was a “factor of disruption” that intruded on the male and female slave relationships (Morton 263). Family tensions were amplified in instances when a white master fathered a child with his female slave. If a slave gave birth to the child of her master, she was forced to be in contact with the white father of her children without being able to disclose the child’s paternity (Franklin and Schweninger 257). Women were not protected from the sexual aggression of their masters as seen in numerous instances (Morton 203). For instance, John Newsome raped a slave woman named Celia since her arrival on her master’s plantation and Celia retaliated by killing him. She was hung and the courts “upheld the ideology of the white social order, which was to maintain control over the lives of the slaves, despite the sexual violation of the slave women” (Morton 53). Hence sexual cruelty towards women was overlooked in the courts, denying women the right to their own body. This type of public spectacle was encouraged by the owners to show the slaves the consequences of assaulting a white man. (Franklin and Schweninger 249). Slavery was, therefore, a system that sustained its oppression through sexual abuse and physical violence caused by masters.
Another form of sexual oppression depicted, was one in which women were forced into marriages and child bearing with men that were not of their choosing (Morton 263). Through the invasion of a woman’s sexual life, the slave masters forbade women from having a stable relationship with their husband, creating an insecure family structure. Hence, historian George Rawick concluded that slave women were unable to have the special bond between husband and wife (Rawick 78).
Just as woman’s position as a wife was compromised, so was their role as a mother. Black women were victims of not only sexual aggressions but were also unprotected from the plantation life and unable to establish the vital role of being a mother, and lacked the respect that came along with the position (Morton 203). For instance, women were pushed into physically demanding labor and weren’t respected as mothers (Morton 203). Not only were they strained from physically demanding labor, but they were also forced to head their household because of the labor migrations of the fathers. Therefore, “mothers were the center of families, while masters kept fathers somewhere else” (Dunaway 78). Mothers were left alone to raise their children because of the father’s lack in presence and resources (Dunaway 64). Thus slave children took on the responsibilities of the mother (Franklin and Schweninger 13). Yet being the center of the family wasn’t significant, since mothers did not have the opportunity to establish any real relationship with their children (Rawick 78). This was due to the fact that there was no time for nurturing relationships because of the time consuming tasks that the slaves had to complete throughout the day. The mother’s own responsibilities would impede her ability to raise her children (Dunaway 69). With the mother’s lack of supervision, the children…