ALEXANDRIA, VA – On Saturday, February 29, between 11 and 1, the Alexandria History Museum will present a lecture by Dr. Thomas Foster at The Lyceum, 201 S. Washington Street, to discuss his groundbreaking book, Rethinking Rufus: Sexual Violations of Enslaved Men.
While scholars have documented the widespread sexual exploitation and abuse suffered by enslaved women, little attention has been paid to the stories of men. Rethinking Rufus is the first book-length study to explore this topic.
Why this Topic?
Dr. Foster, a historian of gender and sexuality in early America, became interested in the topic when he realized how little was written about it. “I was familiar with the scholarship on sexual violence against enslaved women, but I didn’t have anything to assign to students on the topic of men’s experiences,” he told Zebra in a recent conversation.
“For example, in a case that involved two white men who forced an enslaved man at gun point to rape a free black woman, scholars had used the case to discuss the vulnerability of free black women but had not considered the enslaved man as also a victim of sexual assault.”
So Much Still Unknown
In preparing to write the book, Dr. Foster shared with Zebra that the topic is still virtually unexplored, “I combed through all of the readily available sources that scholars of slavery are familiar with, including the WPA interviews, narratives and autobiographies by formerly enslaved people, images and artwork, and some court records,” he said, adding, “I did not scour attics, basements, or local historical societies. There are so many records still out there to be discovered.”
Sexual violence against enslaved people was not a criminal act so the usual sources that historians use to study sexual assaults in history are not available. “I could not go to the index for a court system and look up the cases involving rape of enslaved men because the courts did not recognize enslaved people under rape laws,” said Foster. “However, the sources that we have become familiar with had numerous examples of types of sexual violations of enslaved men – often hiding in plain sight.”
The Importance of Study
When speaking to audiences about his book, Rethinking Rufus, the importance of this knowledge can’t be overstated. Foster contends, “We can’t fully understand our nation’s history of slavery without understanding the full range of experiences of enslaved people. This includes subjects that can be painful and uncomfortable to discuss.”
Foster believes the contemporary culture of sexual violence today is informed by a long history of sexual violence against enslaved men and women. “We don’t often make the connection but we must work to incorporate slavery and sexualized objectification of men and women for generations into our #MeToo consciousness,” he says.
After Saturday’s event, audiences will walk away with “an understanding of the sexual violations of enslaved men, including how enslaved men and women discussed the issue and how those experiences affected everyone in the community.”
This special event is also a part of the City of Alexandria’s Community Remembrance P roject – Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). EJI challenges poverty and racial injustice, advocates for equal treatment in the criminal justice system, and creates hope for marginalized communities.
Tickets for the event are $5.00 and can be purchased here or at the door.