During the American Civil War, laboring African American women and girls in Union-occupied territory embarked on their own war over the use of their bodies. As fugitives, “contraband,” and refugees, displaced Black women and girls of liminal status confronted gender violence in conditions that often resembled the systemic sexual violence of slavery. As this article argues, central to this gender violence was the assumption that Black women were always willing to negotiate sex as part of their (nonsexual) labor. The introduction of wartime legislation protecting women from sexual assault was pivotal. In race-neutral terms, such legislation created a powerful avenue for refugee Black women and girls not only to seek sexual justice but also to challenge and redefine existing cultural and legal understandings of sexual consent. Analysis of testimonies to wartime sexual violence uncovers how formerly enslaved African American women and girls located their violation in relation to their sense of virtue, respectability, and sexual sovereignty. These testimonies mark a significant period of Black women's vocalization as liminal and stateless actors, prompting a reframing of histories of dissemblance, respectability, labor, and gender violence.

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