My professor looked baffled yet simultaneously intrigued when I asked for her permission to give a presentation on the connections between the history of witch craft and racism in America. Her inquisitive eyes and shut mouth begged for further explanation and as I began to provide some more detail on what I had in mind, I could see that she was indubitably interested and excited for the rare comparison I may have stumbled upon. She was and still is a professor of history who focuses on witch craft and magic and I was a Senior at Rutgers growing increasingly eager to graduate yet still focused on my courses and dedicated to discovering new ideas and she and I were, in this instance, on the same page. The presentation, "Burned at the Stake: Race, Sex and Evil in America" focused on the history of evil and fear in this country and drew upon the history of ideologies regarding the place of women, particularly the elements of the Cult of True Womanhood: piety, purity, submissiveness and domesticity, to show that a growing mythological fear of women as evil beings resulted in the slaying of many thought to be witches. Similarly, I drew upon the history of racism as a social construct to show that this social institution, heavily linked to fear, was the catalyst for myths concerning black sexuality and the black male as an oversexed beast. Both of these events, which were deeply connected to fear, resulted in violent acts against women and blacks.
For the many women charged with being witches during the witch craze, their bodies were tied to wooden posts and set afire, while the Black men charged with potentially disturbing the purity of white women were hanged from trees and sometimes set aflame in public displays drawing the attention of nearby citizens who smiled upon such tragedies as entertainment.
The fear of potential or perceived Black dominance, strength or contamination of "pure" white blood and the fear of evil spirits not able to be seen but conceivably present in the bodies of white women threatening the stability of a Christian community, have left their fingerprints on American history forever along with other calamities on North American soil seldom spoken of. Many white female bodies and black male bodies have absorbed their last breaths at the hands of fire and rope. Whether it's the result of mythological spirits or social constructs imbedded in the psyche of a people, fear is a powerful thing. One only need to look so far as recent news and debates concerning political/religious matters to see that there are still many people who are persecuted as a result of fear.