On this coming Friday, June 23 at 10 p.m., it will be exactly 162 years ago to the very minute that 19-year-old Celia displayed unimaginable courage by victoriously resisting another brutal rape.
Immediately after Missouri slaveholder Robert Newsome purchased her in 1850 at the tender age of 14, he raped her. And he continued to do so repeatedly and regularly for five years.
The rapes occurred even while she was pregnant with the child of her enslaved fiance George who lived on the same plantation with her. In addition to raping Celia, Newsome in 1855 impregnated her. And when George was unable to stop the rapes because he had no access to guns, or sheriffs, or laws, Celia begged Newsome’s 19 and 36-year-old daughters to tell their father “to quit forcing her while she was sick” (meaning especially while pregnant). But they refused.
During the daytime on June 23, 1855, Newsome told Celia, “I’m coming to your cabin tonight.” She begged him not to. But at 10 p.m., which was his usual time, he arrived there and backed her into a corner to again sexually and violently defile her. But she wasn’t having it this time. She couldn’t take it anymore. Accordingly, she reached for a large stick next to the fireplace and bashed him in the head. He groaned and “sunk down on a stool or towards the floor” but began swinging and flailing at her. Celia then bashed him in the head a second time, killing him instantly.
Shortly afterward, in an attempt to avoid an unjust arrest, an unfair trial, and an unwarranted execution, she incinerated the pedophile rapist’s body.
When Newsome’s daughters couldn’t locate him the next morning and feared that he might’ve drowned in a nearby creek, they began searching along with several neighbors. Part of that search included Celia’s cabin. When they couldn’t find any evidence there at that time, they went to Newsome’s house where Celia was doing her regular nonstop domestic cleaning duties. One of the members of the search group, who, like most people on and near the plantation, knew about the rapes, falsely claimed to Celia that George told him that “she knew where her master was.” But Celia wasn’t falling for that. She knew her man wasn’t a snitch.
Unfortunately, during a follow-up and much more thorough investigation, some of the perverted thug’s bones were discovered in Celia’s fireplace after which she was arrested. And although she wouldn’t implicate George, even though he was a prime suspect because he had a good reason to be enraged, she did implicate herself by confessing to killing (but not murdering) Newsome when the sheriff threatened to have her children taken away and sold.
The case was formally captioned “State of Missouri v. Celia, a Slave.” She was transported to the Callaway County jail in Fulton. During frequent interrogations there, two sheriff deputies tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to get her to implicate George because they couldn’t believe that a little “slave girl” could have killed Newsome all by herself and gotten rid of his body all by herself. I guess they didn’t know nothing ‘bout that “Black Girl Magic” back then. But Newsome found out. The hard way.
Her lead court-appointed lawyer, John Jameson, was a slaveholder, as were many on the all-white/all-male 12 member jury. The prosecution’s first witness was one of the deputy sheriffs who had interrogated her. He testified on cross-examination that she had told him about the rapes, about how soon they began, about how frequently they occurred, about how many years they continued, and about how she “did not intend to kill” Newsome, “only to hurt him” to keep him from raping and beating her again. The other deputy testified that Celia had told him that she struck Newsome when “he threw his hand up to… [strike] her.” The prosecution objected to that self-defense testimony and the judge sustained the objection, which meant he wouldn’t allow it. He went even further by deleting it from the record and telling the jury to completely disregard it.
By the way, Celia didn’t testify because she was not permitted to. The law in Missouri and most states during that time was that a defendant in any criminal case was not allowed to testify because the “interested party rule” precluded it. In other words, if you were charged with a crime and had a reason to testify for yourself to save yourself, the law assumed that you would be inclined to lie.
Speaking of the law, check this out: The prosecution argued that neither Celia nor any defense witness could claim self-defense on her behalf to stop the rape because the law in Missouri- as in most states- was that the rape of a “slave was a trespass on the property of the owner.” That means that if a person other than the “slave” owner raped his “slave,” the owner could sue the person for damage to his- i.e., that owner’s- property. But the enslaved rape victim couldn’t sue or seek an arrest because she wasn’t considered human. She was considered to be nothing more than property. However, there was an exception. A “slave” was considered human for purposes of incarceration and execution. Think about that for a minute.
Not only did the presiding judge, William Hall, refuse to instruct the jury about the law of self-defense, he instead told the jurors that “the defendant had no right to kill [Newsome] because he came into her cabin and was [simply] talking to her about having intercourse with her or anything else.” That really happened. The judge really said that to the jury.
Consequently, Celia, on Oct. 10, 1855, was found guilty of first degree premeditated murder. And on the next day, Judge Hall sentenced her to be “hanged by the neck until dead on the sixteenth day of November 1855.”
While in prison awaiting her execution, Celia delivered a stillborn baby fathered by the rapist. And on Nov. 11, she (like Assata Shakur 124 years later) escaped. Unfortunately, she was captured a few weeks later and received a new execution date of December 21.
Her appeal was denied on Dec. 14 when the Missouri Supreme Court issued an order declaring “it proper to refuse the prayer of the petitioner.” Celia was taken to the gallows and hanged on Dec. 21, 1855 at 2:30 p.m.
Celia’s life and courage must be eternally remembered. That’s why, on June 23 at precisely 10 p.m., you should spend 162 seconds, which is just under three minutes, saying her name and thinking about what you can do to personally memorialize her and all enslaved Black females.
Never forget. Always avenge.
Michael Coard, Esquire can be followed on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. His “Radio Courtroom” show can be heard on WURD96.1FM. And his “TV Courtroom” show can be seen on PhillyCam/Verizon/Comcast.