A Whiter Shade of Pale
By Jay Thomas Willis
Senior Columnist and Political Analyst
The Mid-South Tribune and the Black Information Highway
(December 3, 2012)
We often think how the slave master frequently had his way with slave women on the plantation; but, not usually about how the mistress found an opportunity to have her way with slave men on the plantation. Whether it was in the plantation house when the master was away on business, close by in the woods, or simply in the barn, the mistress would take an opportunity to have her way with particular slave men. There are many documented accounts of such occurrences throughout history.
A friend and I were reading a book entitled, A Tough Row to Hoe, originally published in 1988, by Ray V. Pryor, Jr., setting is in East Texas. In one scene in the early 1920s a Klansman came after a Black man with intentions of killing him. However, the Black man stood him off with a shotgun and a .45 caliber pistolóalmost killed the Klansman, and made his way out of town in dragónever to be seen or heard from again. Some say he made his way east, and others say he went west, but the point is moot.
Another friend who read the same book years ago, who lived in the same area growing up as Pryor, and was a distant cousin of Pryor, says folklore has it that this Black man was having a relationship with the plantation owner and Klansmanís wife. One would wonder what kind of boldness it took for a Black man to be involved with a Klansmanís wife in the 1920s. It probably took a lot of motivation and extra-added incentives from the mistress.
When I was growing up there was plenty of talk about Black men who had to leave town because they had gotten their hand caught in the cookie jar, meaning white men had found them to be involved in relationships with white women. Sometimes white men would kill Black men, at other times they would give them a chance to leave town. White men usually felt these kinds of Black men were not fit to live in their particular part of the country, even if they thought these Black men didnít deserve to die.
I heard some family members say that a white man near us, who owned a farm in East Texas, threatened to kill my father if he didnít leave town. But this was because the white man had eyes on my mother, and my father pulled a .12 gauge shotgun on him. This was during the 1940s. My father did leave and took a job three-hundred miles away.
Lynching was the most common way white men dealt with Black men who had relationships with white women. If Black men were caught with white women they called it rape, whether it was inappropriate or not. Even if Black men came too close to white women on the sidewalk they might call it rape. If whites wanted to lynch Black men for any reason they said these men had raped white women. So-called rape was the most frequent cause of lynchingóafter slavery until the 1940s. It got so bad that Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1862-1931), a former slave who became a journalist launched a virtual one-woman crusade against the vicious practice of lynching.
They say opposites attract, and a person frequently relishes what is taboo, but white women have always found a way to have clandestine relationships with Black men. Even when Black men were depicted as subhuman, and there were all sorts of sanctions and punishments against this sort of relationship, white women and Black men have always found a way to get together.
During and after slavery when the plantation owners and their purchased politicians instituted all sort of laws and codes to prevent this from happening, it still occurred. They made it punishable by the worst possible punishment, but that didnít stop it. Clearly it was mostly clandestine, and the parties involved knew the chances they were taking.
One would wonder what caused this powerful attraction to be present in the hearts and minds of the participants. Itís hard for me to say, since Iím not a psychologist or psychiatrist, and I wonít venture to speculate. All I can say is that there must have been and still must be a strong attraction between these groups for them to react to the taboo between them as they have in our history.
Take the seaman who transported slaves during the Middle Passage, why would they go down in the hole of the ship to get slave women out of filthy conditions slaves were transported in, and use for sex and whatever else they wanted? This is unimaginable. Why would the mistress risk everything, including family, life, and limb for a relationship with a slave?
Some white women even married free Black men during slavery, and on occasion if not marriage they cohabitated and had children with them. Keep in mind, if they were discovered, in most cases, were severely punished, if not by the local citizenry they were punished by the courts.
Until recently, most states had a law against whites even fraternizing with Blacks, especially against having a relationship or getting married. Most of these laws have been taken off the books, but there are still strong sanctions against such activities in some places.We live in a different world today, and if one has the fortitude can forge practically any type of liaison desiredóin most places. However, itís felt that because of our history, there will always be sanctions against such relationships in certain parts of the country, and in the hearts and minds of certain individuals.
The above is on the Black Paper lane on the Black Information Highway and The Mid-South Tribune ONLINE. Mr. Willis is the author of twenty-three books, fifteen professional journal articles, a number of magazine articles, and over 300 newspaper articles. His books can be reviewed at www.jaythomaswillis.com . Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or MSTnews@prodigy.net or BlackInfoHwy@prodigy.net