Calling Out Sexual Violence

A reverend highlights the ongoing threat of sexual violence faced by Black women in the Reconstruction era.

Content warning: This resource references sexual violence.

Document Text

It was also said, and Southern fanatics rode that hobby everywhere, ‘That if you free the Negro he will want to marry our daughters and sisters,’ that was another foolish dream. What do we want with their daughters and sisters? We have as much beauty as they? Look at our ladies, do you want more beauty than that?
All we ask of the white man is to let our ladies alone, and they need not fear us. The difficulty has heretofore been our ladies were not always at our own disposal.
5th. This is a day of gratitude for the freedom of matrimony. Formerly there was not security for domestic happiness. Our ladies were insulted and degraded with or without their consent. Our wives were sold, and husbands bought, children were begotten and enslaved by their fathers, we therefore were polygamists by virtue of our condition. But now we can marry and live together till we die, and raise our children and teach them to fear God, O! black age of dissipation, thy days are nearly numbered.

Excerpt from Henry McNeal Turner, Celebration of the First Anniversary of Freedom Held in Springfield Baptist Church, January 1, 1866 Augusta, Ga.


Black women endured sexual violence regularly under slavery. Even after slavery ended in 1865, Black women workers were frequently sexually coerced and assaulted by white men in the early years of Reconstruction. Not only were these assaults widespread, but because they were marginalized on the basis of gender and race, Black women knew they lacked the protection and enforcement of the law. If a Black woman tried to report an assault, she was not taken seriously.

About the Resources

On January 1, 1866, Reverend Henry McNeal Turner gave a special New Year’s Day sermon in Springfield, Georgia. He noted that for the first time in American history, Black people could celebrate the arrival of the new year without the fear of enslavement.

Reverend Turner did not just celebrate the joys of freedom. In his remarks, Turner emphasizes the sexual violence white men committed against Black women. In this excerpt, Turner points out that white Americans had long believed that Black men were a threat to white women, when in fact the opposite was true. He demands that white men leave Black women alone. As powerful as his statement is, Turner’s speech uses language that implies Black women are the property of Black men and not autonomous beings.


  • abolished: Ended.
  • at our own disposal: Available to use whenever we wanted.
  • begotten: Conceived.
  • coerce: Force or threaten someone to get them to agree to something.
  • dissipation: Unstrict morals.
  • heretofore: Until this moment.
  • hobby: Hobby horse, a toy horse for children.
  • polygamists: People with multiple wives or husbands.
  • Reconstruction: The years between 1865 and 1877 when the federal government actively sought to reincorporate the former Confederacy back into the United States and integrate Black Americans into the nation’s economics, politics, and society.

Discussion Questions

  • What problem facing Black Americans does Rev. Henry McNeal Turner highlight in this excerpt?
  • What message does he have for white Americans regarding this problem?
  • How does Turner’s language frame the status of Black women?

Suggested Activities



New-York Historical Society Curriculum Library Connections

Source Notes