Missouri remembers the story of a Callaway County slave
COLUMBIA – The walls of Jesse Hall rang with the sounds of one Missouri slave’s story Wednesday night.
Dr. Martha S. Jones, a professor from the University of Michigan, gave a lecture about a slave named Celia, who was purchased at age 14 in Fulton. She said Celia was sexually assaulted for five years by her slave owner and killed him in self defense at age 19 after having two of his children.
“It gives more of a historical background for us," audience member Susan John said. "Just the fact that it happened in Missouri itself is just kind of more relevant."
Celia was prosecuted for murder in the court case The State of Missouri v. Celia, A Slave, and she was found guilty of murder and executed in December 1855. Jones said one of her goals is to get Celia exonerated because judicial justice for slaves is still relevant today.
“My talk is deeply relevant to the way we understand race and race relations in Missouri,” Jones said.
She used the hashtag #SayHerName to get the audience talking about Celia’s slave experience. She said she borrowed the hashtag from the Black Lives Matter movement to put Celia’s life in a modern context.
“This is the first time I’m doing a public lecture on the subject of Celia,” she said. “Celia is one of the early iterations of the juncture between race and state violence.”
The University of Missouri partnered with the State Historical Society of Missouri to host the lecture.
Jones is the author of "All bound Up Together: The Woman Question in African-American Public Culture, 1830-1900.” She is also the co-director of the Celia Project, which researches the history of sexual violence, women and slavery in the United States.