Race, Sex, and the Law in Louisiana’s Long Nineteenth Century

AHA Session 20
Friday, January 2, 2015: 1:00 PM-3:00 PM
Conference Room D (Sheraton New York, Lower Level)
Emily Clark, Tulane University
Emily Clark, Tulane University

Session Abstract

This panel investigates the complexities of Louisiana’s racial-sexual past by exploring a diverse array of sexual arrangements in the 19th century. This panel asks how the law responded to interracial sex, commercial sex, sex across lines of freedom and unfreedom, sex across age lines, and sex within and outside of marriage. We ask: How did the law produce sexual subjects? How did the law attempt to regulate intimacy? How did Louisiana’s sexual subjects mobilize or circumvent the law in their establishment of sexual relationships? How does Louisiana’s history of sexuality speak to broader histories of race, freedom, citizenship, and economy?

The cases represented on this panel raise questions about the legal histories of consent, sexual contracts, and sex-for-hire across the span of the 19th century. Both Adrienne Davis’ and Emily Owens’ papers ground this panel in the history of slavery, querying the nature of what Davis has called “sexual economic” relations across lines of freedom and unfreedom. Diana Williams’ paper moves the panel into Reconstruction, where she explores the ways that racial-sexual arrangements born under slavery haunted the period’s immediate aftermath and changed shape in the context of changing meanings of freedom. Emily Landau’s paper takes our panel into the turn of the 20th century, where her questions about the changing nature of consent both speak back to slavery’s historical exclusion of women of color from the category of people who could be raped, and speak forward to emerging politics of protecting (white) childhood. Finally, Professor Davis’ paper draws us toward histories of the present by asking how the fantasies, performances, transactions, and laws that animates Louisiana’s 19th century history resonate with the present. Together, these papers engage the historiographies of sex and slavery, interracial intimacies, and the legal history of consent, illuminating the racial regulations, pleasures, and violences that defined Louisiana’s sexual culture.

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