Celia was an ordinary slaveuntil she struck back at her abusive master and became the defendant in a landmark trial that threatened to undermine the very foundations of the South's "Peculiar Institution."
This moving and masterfully told true story details the abuse and execution of a female black slave in antebellum Missouri. Melton, a professor of history at the University of North Carolina, provides vivid portraits of the teenaged Celia and her owner Robert Newsom, who repeatedly raped her in the five years following her purchase in 1850. Finally, Celia's love for another slave led to a confrontation during which she killed Newsom. Melton's account of her trial documents the hopelessness of a slave's plight; though many whites sympathized with Celia, she was put to death because slaves had no legal right to self-defense against their masters. Melton's rich narrative reads like a fine novel; his scholarship makes a vitally important contribution to understanding this chapter in American history. (Nov.)