|Tag(s):||African-Americans, Crime/Violence, Law, Race-Relations, Women|
|Course:||“Rise And Fall of the Slave South,” University of Virginia|
Having a petition granted for divorce was hard to come by in the nineteenth-century. However, each year many divorce petitions were filed in the South. In 1857, Mrs. Charlotte Smith of Lowndes County, Mississippi stated that she caught her husband committing adultery with a negro girl named Nancy in April of that year. Mrs. Smith, devastated by her husband's crime, filed for divorce, alimony, and the custody of their daughter.
It is difficult to tell how much of Mrs. Smith's initiative to file the petition was due to the concept of interracial adultery or just due to the simple unfaithfulness of her husband. No doubt race played some sort of role, since southern plantation society was built on a social hierarchy of fuel by racial relations. However, it seems that indicating the race of the third party would not have much affected Mrs. Smith's case. The accusation was more about the act itself rather than the individuals involved.
According to Rothman, women's chances for successfully procuring divorces were not greatly enhanced by an emphasis on the interracial sexual activities of their spouses. In addition, for many women, turning this aspect of their marital strife into public knowledge only heightened the humiliation of what might already be a futile effort (172).