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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with John Raymond Shute, June 25, 1982. Interview B-0054-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Rape and race in the Old South

In the early twentieth century, black men accused of raping white women were likely to be killed before they made it to trial, Shute says here. Back then, Shute recalls, he and others thought it something that only black men were capable of, and it was utterly unacceptable. Today, he thinks that women are much less safe than they were a century ago, perhaps because of a relaxation of this attitude.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with John Raymond Shute, June 25, 1982. Interview B-0054-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JOHN RAYMOND SHUTE, Jr.: That's true. That sort of thing didn't occur very often. I remember several cases of rape, but it's rather funny; the ones that I remember, there were only whites involved. When a black raped a white woman in those days, he usually had a very difficult time being arrested. Quite often he'd be killed before the sheriff ever got him. I mean it just didn't happen. But I do remember several cases, some of which, I'm sure, were not truly rape cases. I remember one that occurred in Morrisville. A schoolteacher and this young man went out on a date, and she came back and couldn't get in the screen door and had to wake up the people in whose home she lived. She was so disheveled, they commented on it, and she said the boy had raped her. He served a prison term for that, and I'm sure if that screen door had been unlatched, there never would have been anything said about it at all. You had things like this that occurred. I served as foreman of a jury on a case like that, and we found the man not guilty. The judge, afterwards, commented to us privately that he thought we had done the right thing, that that was his opinion, too. But I was just trying to think about the Houstons. I don't recall the details.
They commented in the article, said "This is unprecedented." This kind of thing hadn't happened. JOHN RAYMOND SHUTE, Jr.: It is. It very seldom happened. You must realize, too, that before World War I we lived under a much stricter code of ethics than we live under today. There was not this permissiveness that's so rampant today. I'm not establishing any value judgments on the social behavior today, but I'm simply pointing out that we live in an entirely different society culturally. Back then, the least little thing that was out of the ordinary was considered pretty bad, but a rape case was just intolerable. That was just something that you couldn't hardly conceive of occurring among white people. The only thing you could think about would be a black who had gotten drunk or was out of his mind or something like that and did a thing like that, but you just couldn't consider things like that in that period of time. So if they said something was unusually bad, by today's standards, with the exception of rape and acts of violence, you might not consider them too bad. I don't think we ever had a period as bad for rapes and deeds of violence as we have today. I mean it's terrible, I think—I really do—and I'm fairly liberal in my views about a lot of things, but it's pretty bad today. It's pretty bad. It isn't safe for even men to be out alone at night, and my God, it's not safe for women to be out even in broad daylight. Quite often, harm will come to them in the daytime.