War Secrets

Cast Bronze, 2004
24" x 30" x 35"

Clemmie Yvonne Boykin came up on a very large plantation. In her early life, which was spent in and around the stately Greek revival mansion, most of the negative aspects of slave life were hidden from her. Although she had a variety of duties, she was primarily a playmate and companion to the white children in the household. She even shared in their lessons, and was quite a good student. She felt she was the equal of her playmates until, one day, she was punished for stepping out of her place by speaking in an inappropriate manner to one of the children within earshot of the mistress. She never forgot the beating she received that day from her grandmother, nor the rebuke from the lady of the house.

As she began to develop into a stunning young woman, she started to receive attention from some of the guests who arrived at the plantation for the summer galas. Her grandmother, the cook, understood the dangers awaiting the child, who was fourteen at the time, and she tried to keep her working inside the kitchen. But her grace and her manners caused the mistress to insist that she serve in the dining room. The men would sidle up and whisper things to her as she carried trays of food and drink from the kitchen.

One evening, during a rare quiet moment when she paused outside the kitchen door for a breath of fresh air, a hand covered her mouth, she was grasped tightly by the arm, and was pulled into the maze-like hedge garden where she and the other children used to play. There she was struck fiercely and raped by one of the guests.

Never having experienced such brutality, she was dazed and somewhat confused, and did not tell even her grandmother what had taken place. The next evening and five other nights during the fortnight the guest was in residence he repeated his vicious attack. By the second time, her bewilderment at his treatment of her had changed to shame, and although she resisted him with all her energy, she felt that she, rather than the man, was the guilty party.

Although she was treated essentially as a member of the family, and certainly as a valued member of the household, she did not discover until years after the War that this was in large part because the plantation owner was her father. Despite her relatively high status, accusing a white man of violence against her would have been a very dangerous act. No one asked about her change in demeanor, and no one was surprised by her becoming pregnant. The family assumed the father was the young coachman-but whoever the father was, another birth only added to the wealth of the plantation, and was viewed in a positive light.

She realized that revealing her attacker could cause her to be "sold down the river" to Mississippi, away from her family to a place where the treatment of slaves was much harsher, even if it was believed that she was taken against her will. The familiar areas of the maze, the yard, and even the dining room, once so welcoming and comfortable, became inhospitable and sinister.

Within the year, she delivered a child with whom she developed a strong bond, and she swore to provide him with a better life than she had. She continued her duties as a house servant, but as her young mistresses went away to school, she was often hired out to various merchants in town to do bookwork, because of her reading and mathematical skills.

It has been said that because of her hatred for the institution of slavery, she had offered her abilities to the Union army which had set up offices in the county seat where she worked several days a week. During her unsupervised trips to town, she would smuggle valuable information to the union officers-information that she overheard while serving her master and his guests. As she walks through town, she passes one more reminder of her status in society. She barely glances at the lawn jockey, with his hideous grin and bulging eyes, realizing that he is only a symbol of a bygone era.