On Thursday, December 10, a jury found former Police Officer Daniel Holtzclaw guilty of multiple counts of rape — first and second degree — as well as sexual battery, procuring lewd exhibition, and forcible oral sodomy. Except for Roland Martin of News One Now and a faithful cadre of folks on Twitter and other social media outlets providing us updates, this case where 13 women came forward to testify against this man, went largely unnoticed. On an episode of the Melissa Harris Perry show, commentator Joy Reid acknowledged the media’s disregard toward this case. However, after the trial, the testimony of the 13 was made public. While many were shocked and disgusted at what they read, others also commended the women for coming forward and testifying.
When I read the testimony, I immediately thought about Memphis, Tennessee in 1866. Many folks, including many Memphians, are not familiar with the Memphis Massacre that happened May 1-3 in 1866. In short, white police officers in Memphis destroyed many areas of the black community in Memphis. It was total and utter destruction.
Shortly after, a congressional committee arrived in Memphis to investigate the massacre. During their investigation and interview process, the committee discovered that 46 black people died, 285 people injured, over 100 houses and other property belonging to African Americans burned. However, also part of the demonic behavior was the rape of (at least) 5 black women. According to the report:
The crowning acts of atrocity and diabolism committed during these terrible nights were the ravishing of five different colored women by these fiends in human shape, independent of other attempts at rape. The details of these out rages are of too shocking and disgusting character to be given at length in this report, and reference must be had to the testimony of the parties. It is a singular fact, that while this mob was breathing vengeance against the negroes and shooting them down like dogs, yet when they found unprotected colored women they at once “conquered their prejudices,” and proceeded to violate them under circumstances of the most licentious brutality.
Below is the testimony from these brave black women in Memphis in 1866 as recorded in the congressional report.
The first account is that of Frances Thompson who “had been slave and was cripple, using crutches because she had cancer on her foot.”
On Tuesday night seven men, two of whom were policemen, came to her house. She knew the two to be policemen by their stars. They were all Irishmen. They first demanded that she should get supper for them, which she did. After supper the wretches threw all the provisions that were in the house which had not been consumed out into the bayou. They then laid hold of Frances, hitting; her on the side of the face and kicking her…….The woman was then violated by four of the men, and so beaten and bruised that she lay in bed for three days. They were in the house nearly four hours, and when they left they said they intended “to burn up the last God damned nigger, and drive all the Yankees out of town.
Lucy Smith, trying to avoid get away from her rapists, tried to escape through a window.
One of the brutes knocked her down and choked her. They then drew their pistols, and said they would shoot them and fire the house if they did not let them have their way. Lucy Smith (is of) modest demeanor and highly respectable in appearance. They seized her (Lucy) by the neck and choked her to such an extent that she could not talk for two weeks to any one. She was then violated by one of the men, and the reason given by another for not repeating the act was, that she was so near dead he would not have anything to do with her. He there upon struck her with a severe blow upon the side of the head.
She was in bed with her husband, when five men broke open her door and came into her house. They professed to have authority to arrest Mr. Bloom, and threatened to take him to the station-house unless he should pay them forfeit of twenty-five dollars. Not having the money, he went out to raise it, and while absent one of the men assaulted the wife and threatened to kill her if she did not let him do as he wished. Brandishing his knife, and swearing she must submit to his wishes, he accomplished his brutal purpose.
Then there was the case of Lucy Tibbs.
A party of seven men broke into her house on Tuesday night and demanded to know where her husband was. She had with her two little children of the ages of five and two years, respectively. She implored them not to do anything to her, as she was just there with her “two little children.” While the others of the party were plundering the house, one man threatened to kill her if she did not submit to his wishes and although another man, discovering her situation, interfered, and told him to let that woman alone that she was not in situation for doing that, the brute did not desist, but succeeded in violating her person in the presence of the other six men. She was obliged to submit, as the house was full of men, and she thought they would kill her, as they had stabbed a woman the previous night in her neighborhood.
Another case of rape was that of Harriet Armor.
On Wednesday morning, in open day, two men came into her room. One of them, by the name of Dunn, living on South street, under the pretext of hunting for arms, entered and barred the door, and both of them violated her. This outrage was attended with circumstances of too disgusting and shocking character to be mentioned except by the most distant allusion. The testimony of this witness is substantially corroborated by other witnesses.
Then finally, there was the shooting and burning of 16 year old Rachel Hatcher.
On Tuesday night the mob came to her house, took a man out, took him down to the bridge and shot him. They then set fire to the house of an old colored man by the name of Adam Lock. Seeing the house of neighbor on fire, (Rachel Hatcher) proposed to go and help get the things out. While in the house, engaged in an act of benevolent heroism, the savages surrounded the burning building, and with loaded revolvers threatened to shoot her. In piteous tones she implored them to let her come out; but one of the crowd—the wretch Pendergrast—said, No; if you don’t go back, I will blow your damned brains out.” As the flames gathered about her she emerged from the burning house [and] the whole crowd fired at her as fast as they could.” She was deliberately shot, and fell dead between the two house.
Read the complete report here.
Andre E. Johnson is the Founder and Managing Editor of R3.