of H.R. 40, the so-called “Reparations Bill,” have researched
historical documents and written reams of material on
the sufferings of African slaves subjected to forced
to their Anglo
masters for over 200 years, but have seemingly neglected
a practice originating in the Antebellum South, and continuing
into the post-Civil War Segregationist South, that could
to - or complicate - their arguments.
Neale Hurston, the famous African-American anthropologist
and writer of the Harlem Renaissance, studied a practice
in the Segregationist South she referred to as “Paramour
Rights,” picking up a term she encountered in the timber
camps of north Florida ranging from Jacksonville through
Pensacola. This unwritten law of the pre-Civil War South
referred to the right of a white man to take a black
woman as his concubine and force her to have his children
she was married or not.
not surprising during slavery, this practice continued well
past the end of the Civil War, and became institutionalized
in the Segregationist South, buttressed by Jim Crow legislation
making miscegenation illegal, thereby removing any rights of
a woman of African descent from suing her forced paramour for
paternity-related issues of child support.
of the color of her skin, a woman was considered a “Negress” if
she could be proven to have even a single drop of African blood
coursing through her veins, so one of the first lines of defense
for rape was for the man to look for evidence – however spurious – that
the woman had a distant ancestor who was black.
abuse of black women by white men resulted in mixed-race offspring
with no claim to a father, nor to the financial support a father
would normally be expected to give to his family. A real bargain
for the white man. A real tragedy for his paramour and her
from the freedom from responsibility that black women afforded
the white men who practiced this form of continuing enslavement,
the practice of Paramour Rights served to “keep the Nigger
in their place,” by institutionalizing legal rape of black
women and psychologically castrating black men through penis
entitlement. This form of sexual domination is the oldest known
form of subjugation of conquered races throughout the history
the trial of Ruby McCollum, a wealthy African-American wife
who murdered her white, physician and senator-elect lover,
created the first forum for a “Negress” to witness in her own
defense regarding her abuse by a white man who forced her to
bear his children.
that this explosive trial was a first in American history,
Zora Neale Hurston, reporting for The Pittsburgh Courier,
drew a parallel between Ruby and her countless black paramour
equivalents in the Segregationist South who were victimized
by white males seeking to gain power and control by subjugating
recent book, The
Trial of Ruby McCollum: the true-crime story that
shook the foundations of the Segregationist South, the
relationship between Ruby McCollum and Leroy Adams, her abusive
lover, is examined from the standpoint of how this case contributed
to the death of Paramour Rights in this country.
of this book in the area of north Florida where this drama
played itself out is predictable. After half a century it is
considered – in the words of a storeowner who cancelled a book
signing – “too sensitive” for many to have retold.
the attitude of north Florida locals to the story is similar
to that of Judge Hal W. Adams who tried the case and revoked
Ruby’s 1st Amendment Rights for fear that what she might have
to say would “subject the community to embarrassment.”
of us have watched TV to see the faces of criminals when they
are arrested for such crimes as stock fraud or child molestation?
Yes, they do all look embarrassed. That should cause no wonder.
What should concern us, though, is that they not be allowed
to continue to deny their crimes, like so many neo-Nazis sweeping
aside their shameful legacy with lies, deceit and revisionist
for those who want reparations for all of this, I can offer
little hope. The sheer mechanics of assigning a price tag to
slavery is a monumental task in and of itself, let alone the
well nigh impossible task of determining who will benefit because
of the passing of time and the mixing of races to the point
that few have proof, or even knowledge, of their slave lineage.
is not to say that H.R. 40 should be a dead issue – it should
not be. Opening this chapter in history up for public examination
and discourse is an obligation, a duty, for our Congressmen.
The denial of this duty is a shame upon our nation, and will
continue to be a spiritual albatross until it is resolved.
Ellis was featured speaker at the 2003 Miami Book Fair. He
can be reached at [email protected].