Dig History – Celia, A Slave


Episode: Celia, A Slave: The True Crime Case that Rocked the American Slave Power

Series: Dig History

Release Date: 1/28/2018
Producers: Sarah Handley-Cousins and Elizabeth Garner Masarik

Episode Link: https://digpodcast.org/2018/01/28/celia-a-slave/

Tags: History, Race, Gender, Enslavement, Law, Murder, Rape, Intersectionality, 1800s, Civil War, Slavery, Women’s History, African American history


Conversational/Academic The episode focuses on the trial of Celia, an enslaved woman, who murdered her rapist/slave owner. The podcast’s conversational nature featuring a group of historians allows students to “sit in” on a historical discussion.

Notes: Kera Lovell: This episode deals with rape so students should be warned of this potential trigger. Because this was a court case, the primary sources related to the case might also be a good starting point for an exercise on how the court system reproduced white supremacy/patriarchy in the 1850s. The podcast episode draws heavily from Melton McLaurin’s monograph on Celia linked below, that could also be used for an accompanying reading assignment.

Typical slave cabin, c. 1830, in Missouri.  This is known as the “John Condron slave cabin.”  Image online, courtesy Library of Congress (American Memory).

Assignment Ideas:

1) Computer Lab exercise: This PBS website includes a discussion of gender in its intersectional analysis of enslavement (see section Men, Women, & Gender among others): https://www.thirteen.org/wnet/slavery/experience/gender/history.html

2) Primary Source excerpt: The podcast can accompany excerpts from Harriet Jacobs’s memoir of enslavement, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: https://docsouth.unc.edu/fpn/jacobs/jacobs.html

3) Theoretical application: The podcast ultimately offers a fantastic lens into an intersectional analysis of slavery, and could therefore accompany Kimberle Crenshaw’s famous essay on this: https://www.racialequitytools.org/resourcefiles/mapping-margins.pdf or her more recent video explanation of this via TED Talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/kimberle_crenshaw_the_urgency_of_intersectionality?language=en

Potential Reflection Questions:

1) How did gender shape the experience of slavery? What was the experience of slavery like for enslaved African American women?

2) How do you think white slave-owning women felt about this treatment of enslaved black women and why?

3) What is the story of Celia, and how does her story shape what we know about enslavement?


Other Relevant Sources:

Wiki overview: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_of_Missouri_v._Celia,_a_Slave

Book: Melton McLaurin, Celia, a Slave: https://www.amazon.com/Celia-Slave-Melton-Mclaurin/dp/0380803364 (shown above)

Book: Deborah Gray White, Ar’n’t I a Woman?: Female Slaves in the Plantation South: https://www.amazon.com/Arnt-Woman-Female-Slaves-Plantation/dp/0393314812
Site: http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/celialinks.html

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Website Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: