CELIA, A SLAVE by Melton A. McLaurin


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 Both a well-told historical narrative about a slave girl sexually exploited by her master, whom she later kills, and a thoughtful examination of the moral tensions that strained the fabric of the antebellum South. McLaurin teaches history at the Univ. of North Carolina. At the age of 14, Celia was purchased by aging and prosperous widower John Newsom. On their way back to his Missouri farm, Newsom raped his new ``possession'' and from then on treated her as his concubine, impregnating her at least three times. Celia endured her master's attentions for years, until she became involved with a fellow slave named George and demanded that Newsom stop. He refused and Celia struck him with a club. The blow proved fatal and a terrified Celia disposed of his body in her fireplace, a crime that was quickly discovered and brought to trial. McLaurin relates Celia's story in vivid prose, using her trial to bring in the larger issues confronting both the South and the North in the 1850's. He writes not only of the slavery question, but also of legal issues (``Antebellum southerners viewed their slaves as both chattels and persons, a paradox reflected in the legal systems...'') and of the role of women--black and white--in a white male society (``One of the essential legal differences between slave and free women was that free women were protected from sexual assault by law''). McLaurin's chronicle is tightly focused, with no great--but many small--illuminations, and his style is succinct and meticulous throughout. A straightforward and compelling account of one small historical incident that helps to illustrate the complex issues facing pre-Civil War America.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-8203-1352-1
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Univ. of Georgia
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1991


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