Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Trial of Margaret Douglass

From American State Trials:
"A Southern lady (Margaret Douglass) living with a daughter in Norfolk, Virginia sixty-six years ago (1853) and being greatly interested in the religious and moral instruction of colored children and finding that the Sunday school where they were allowed to attend was not sufficient, invited them to come to her house, where in a back room upstairs she and her daughter taught them to read and write.

She knew that it was against the law to teach slaves, and so she was careful to take none in her school but free colored children.

One day a couple of city constables entered with a warrant and marched the two teachers and the children to the Mayor's office, where she was charged with teaching them to read, contrary to law. She explained that none of the children were slaves and that she had no idea that a child could not be taught to read simply because it was black.

But the Mayor told her that this was the law, but as she had acted in good faith he would dismiss the case.

But the Grand Jury heard of it and indicted her.

At the next term of court she was tried for a violation of the Virginia code which provided that ... every assemblage of negroes for instruction in reading and writing ... was unlawful, and if a white person assembled with negroes to instruct them to read and write, he should be fined and imprisoned.

She refused the services of a lawyer and defended herself, and though she called several witnesses to show that the same thing had been done for years in the Sunday schools in the city, the jury convicted her, but placed the penalty at a fine of only one dollar.

But this was overruled by the judge:

"The Court is not called on to vindicate the policy of the law in question, for so long as it remains upon the statute book, and unrepealed, public and private justice and morality require that it should be respected and sustained.

There are persons, I believe, in our community, opposed to the policy of the law in question.

They profess to believe that universal intellectual culture is necessary to religious instruction and education, and that such culture is suitable to a state of slavery; and there can be no misapprehension as to your opinions on this subject, judging from the indiscreet freedom with which you spoke of your regard for the colored race in general.

Such opinions in the present state of our society I regard as manifestly mischievous.

... I exceedingly regret, that in being called on for the first time to act under the law in question, it becomes my duty to impose the required punishment upon a female, apparently of fair and respectable standing in the community.

The only mitigating circumstance in your case, if in truth there be any, according to my best reason and understanding of it, is that to which I have just referred, namely, you being a female.

Under the circumstances of this case, if you were of a different sex, I should regard the full punishment of six months' imprisonment as eminently just and proper.... As an example to all others in like cases disposed to offend, and in vindication of the policy and justness of our laws, which every individual should be taught to respect, the judgment of the Court is, in addition to the proper fine and costs, that you be imprisoned for the period of one month in the jail of this city.""

So there ya go, a trial with a side of sexism accompanying the main course of racism.

1 comment:

  1. 快樂是你與生俱來的權力,它不應該取決於你完成什麼。 ........................................