If the #MeTooMovement would have existed in the late 1800s Celia, could have benefitted from the support which could have saved her life. This is the story about a young slave woman who was tried in the Circuit Court of Callaway County, Missouri for first-degree murder.
Robert Newsom, a 70-something year old slave master and widower purchased Celia at the age of fourteen. She had been raped for five years by him which resulted in her having two of his children.
George, another slave who was a love interest to Celia told her she couldn’t allow the abuse from Robert to continue when she became pregnant for the third time. When Robert told Celia that he would be by for a visit one night, she warned him not to come or he would get hurt.
On June 23, 1855, Robert entered Celia’s cabin attempting to force her to have sex with him. Reaching for a stick she had picked up for protection earlier in the day, she swung and hit Robert. Dazed and falling to the floor, he reached out for Celia, where she struck him again, this time killing him. Not knowing what to do with his dead body, Celia threw him into a raging fire in the fireplace where she later had his ashes disposed of across his property. Celia was arrested for his murder.
A court attorney was appointed to Celia who was going to argue self-defense. Missouri law stated it was a crime, “to take any woman unlawfully against her will and by force, menace, or duress, compel her to be defiled.” Armed with that information, Celia’s attorney requested Judge William Hall instruct the jury which consisted of twelve white men, who were pro-slavery or owned slaves, that a slave master had no right to rape his slave under this law. Judge Hall refused to advise the jury of that information and instead told them Celia’s action resulting in Robert’s death was murder in the first degree. Celia had stated, Robert had abused her for all those years.
On November 1, 1855, Celia was found guilty and sentenced to death. She was seen as property and Robert was within his rights to do as he pleased with her. An appeal was sent to the Missouri Supreme Court but the court refused to overturn the decision. A few days before her execution, she escaped.
She was captured a few days later.
Due to her being close to giving birth, her execution date was delayed. The baby was stillborn and on December 21, 1855, Celia was taken to the Callaway Courthouse in Fulton, Missouri and hanged until she died.
This story may seem like it was worlds away but situations like this still happen to many women today. Actress America Ferrera once said, “Ladies, let’s break this silence so the next generation of girls won’t have to live with this bullshit.”