Breaking the Silence: Sexual Hypocrisies from Thomas Jefferson to Strom Thurmond


Catherine Clinton


Slavery in the United States depended on segregationist ideology and white supremacist views. Yet interracial liaisons between white male slaveowners and enslaved women and girls were not rare. Indeed, they often resulted in children and thus what we can call "shadow families". These shadow families were an institution, unacknowledged but evident, within the American South, both during and long after slavery. Statesmen as eminent as Thomas Jefferson and Strom Thurmond are now known to have had shadow families. These relationships expose the contradictions within racial separatism and the American ideals of sexual purity and Christian virtue. Exploring this pattern of interracial sexual liaisons broadens our understanding of what slavery meant to its participants and what their legacy is for us today. Examining the larger context of slavery allows us to see that it was about much more than the expropriation of labor. We can recognize its daunting consequences for family and kinship, both during and after slavery's reign.