Yesha Callahan

New York Times Editor Apologizes After Using The Term “Slave Mistress” In Obituary For Civil Rights Leader Julian Bond

JulianBond

The instant feelings that arise each time I see another “[insert mainstream media publication] apologizes for [insert insensitive action obviously offensive to Black people]” headline range from annoyance to disgust to numb indifference at this point, so seeing that the NY Times is now apologizing for their disrespectful characterization in the obituary for a highly regarded civil rights leader brings many of the same feelings.

Over the weekend, the world mourned the loss of 75-year-old civil rights activist Julian Bond. In addition to his work as an iconic leader in the endless fight for equal rights for African-Americans, Julian Bond was also instrumental in establishing the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which was well-documented as playing a pivotal role in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Upon completing his education at Morehouse College, he also went on to serve multiple terms in both the Georgia House of Representatives and the Georgia State Senate before later being elected chairman of the NAACP, a position he held for over a decade from 1998-2010.

Shortly following news of Julian’s passing on Friday, the New York Times ran an obituary penned by editor Roy Reed in his honor, but their efforts to pay tribute to the fallen civil rights icon fell short when they decide to include the following line:

“Julian Bond’s great-grandmother Jane Bond was the slave mistress of a Kentucky farmer.”

As is to be expected, the NY Times referring to Julian Bond’s grandmother as a “slave mistress” did not sit well with the masses and was met with much backlash, calling them out for using such insensitive….and inaccurate….terminology to describe her. Among the many messages relayed to the publication via social media, one user hit the nail on the head with the notion that “on the grounds that a slave, by definition, can’t be in the kind of consensual or romantic relationship that the word ‘mistress’ suggests.”

Dean Baquet, who is the paper’s first African-American executive editor, reportedly relayed the message to NY Times public editor Margaret Sullivan that use of the degrading terminology to describe Julian Bond’s grandmother was “a clear mistake” Sullivan published a follow-up article, apologizing in detail to all who were offended, shortly after.  Here’s an excerpt of what she had to say:

“There’s no question that Times editors heard readers’ voices loud and clear. Retiring this phrase and expressing regret about using it has nothing to do with political correctness. It’s about recognizing the history of slavery in America, at a time when race is at the forefront of the nation’s consciousness. Language matters. This is the right call.”

Surely it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to predict that people will take offense to a national publication describing any enslaved human being, who was likely forced into sex involuntarily as a “mistress.” As usual, the time to do better BEFOREHAND so that there won’t be a need for any “after-the-fact” apologies is, and will continue to be, right now.

Image Credits: NY Times/Getty Images

  1. August 21, 2015 - Reply

    “retiring this phrase”
    Was that phrase really something they dug through their archives to use because they felt it was the best fit?

  2. August 21, 2015 - Reply

    Note that even in their apology, they still felt the need to point out that Julian Bond himself used the phrase, as if to absolve themselves. However, Bond didn’t actually use “slave mistress” as such. Rather, his exact words were “…exercised his right to take his wife’s slave as his mistress”. The difference isn’t merely academic. Basically, I call bullshit.

  3. August 21, 2015 - Reply

    Those who used that phrase knew what they were doing. It’s really abysmally disrespectful. Julian Bond worked in SNCC, opposed the Vietnam War, and has stood up for social justice for long decades. I always respected how he narrated “Eyes on the Prize” too.

  4. August 21, 2015 - Reply

    how could anyone with a modicum of decency think this was ok?

  5. August 21, 2015 - Reply

    Done deliberately for attention , there is no difference now between some journalist and internet trolls

    • August 22, 2015 - Reply

      @blogdiz

      bingo.

    • August 23, 2015 - Reply

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  6. August 22, 2015 - Reply

    ‘likely forced into sex involuntarily as a “mistress.” ‘ ….. likely? the correct terminology – kidnapped, held in bondage and raped repeatedly.

    the free dictionary’s definition of a mistress:

    1. A woman who has a continuing sexual relationship with a man who is married to someone else.

    2. A woman in a position of authority, control, or ownership, as the head of a household: Thirteen years had seen her mistress of Kellynch Hall” (Jane Austen).

    3.

    a. A woman who owns or keeps an animal: a cat sitting in its mistress’s lap.

    b. A woman who owns a slave.

    4. A woman with ultimate control over something: the mistress of her own mind.

    5.

    a. A nation or country that has supremacy over others: Great Britain, once the mistress of the seas.

    b. Something personified as female that directs or reigns: “my mistress … the open road” (Robert LouisStevenson).

    6. A woman who has mastered a skill or branch of learning: a mistress of the culinary art.

    7. Mistress Used formerly as a courtesy title when speaking to or of a woman.

    8. Chiefly British A woman schoolteacher.

  7. August 22, 2015 - Reply

    No..Just No

  8. August 22, 2015 - Reply

    You cannot have a relationship with someone who owns you yt.

    • August 22, 2015 - Reply

      @Staci Elle

      Preach Sister. Julian Bond and black people in general deserve great dignity.

  9. August 23, 2015 - Reply

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  10. October 15, 2015 - Reply

    Of course the writer knew what they were writing. It was done as a direct slur of disrespect, like they alway do, and then “apologize” to try to make it seem that no harm was intended. Malarkey! They are disgusting.

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