While the American Civil War brought about the end of slavery, little consideration was given to what rights would be afforded to the four million newly freed people, or how those individuals’ lives and liberties would be protected. This was made painfully clear in the spring of 1866 when a three-day racially motivated massacre broke out in the city. Forty-six African Americans were killed, along with 2 whites; 75 African Americans were injured; and over 100 people were robbed in what is known as the Memphis Massacre. Five black women reported being raped, and 91 homes, 4 churches, and 8 schools for African Americans were burned.
Lucy Tibbs was a survivor of the massacre. She was pregnant with her third child when members of the mob broke into her home, raped her, and then robbed her. She found the courage to publicly testify to what she witnessed and suffered, giving detailed descriptions of her rape while interrogated by the US House Select Committee. Tibbs had to provide her name and address, risking retaliation. Her testimony and that of the other witnesses led to radical reconstruction and the passage of the 14th amendment. Tibbs, along with other women, are often cited as the first victims of sexual assault to testify in public.
For more information on Lucy Tibbs, read A Massacre in Memphis: The Race Riot That Shook the Nation One Year after the Civil War by Stephen Ash or read Lucy Tibbs’ testimony documented by the United States House of Representatives in Volumes 223-224 of House Documents.