Resistance to Slavery and Race Oppression

Resistance to Slavery and Race Oppression

Slavery in the early eighteenth century was horrible for African Americans. Men were being killed, women were being raped and children were being sold. To avoid the unjust treatment of slavery, slaves did the unthinkable. Some ran away, others killed their masters, and women even killed their own children. What were they trying to accomplish by this? Resistance. In the modern reinterpretation of slavery, considerable attention has been devoted to the subject of slave resistance. Earlier observers argued that such slave characteristics as clumsiness, slovenliness, listleness, destructiveness, and inability to learn indicated racial inferiority. Recent studies of slavery attribute these observed characteristics to the slaves, defiant determination to resist slavery’s worst manifestations and to make the institution as livable as possible. Slaves recognized that they could take day-to-day action on an individual or small group basis, engaging in what historians has termed “personal or communal foot dragging.” Such resistance successfully thwarted the master’s attempt to gain total control over their lives.

The extent and success of this day-to-day resistance depended upon the support of a strong and close-knit slave community. Despite white society’s belief that slaves were nothing more than laborers, they were in fact part of an elaborate and well defined social structure that gave them identity and sustained them in their silent protest. In slave quarters, slaves expressed themselves with relative freedom from white interference.

Religion provided a similar support. By attending their own church, whether openly or in secret, slaves fashioned a Christianity that emphasized salvation for all peoples, slaves included, and promised rewards in the afterlife. In church, blacks assumed leadership roles and openly expressed feelings they usually suppress. Masters tried to use religion negatively to teach slaves obedience and duty; slaves used it positively as an affirmation of their self worth and as a promise of future.

Their community provided slaves with the chance to be among their own people, to express themselves, to develop their own culture, and to have control over some portions of their own lives. These opportunities were limited and varied greatly, but the ability to be fathers or mothers, ...

... middle of paper ...

...w prohibiting slaves from handling medicines.

Slaves also mutilated themselves to avoid work, punishment, or sale. They cut off fingers, hands, toes, or feet, and disfigured other body parts of their bodies to make themselves less valuable slave property. Some slaves committed suicide to escape enslavement. There is even some evidence of parents murdering their children to keep them from having to live lives as chattels. Some newly captured slaves from Africa believed that death would cause them or their children to return home, a belief that provided additional incentive for suicide and infanticide.

The resistance slaves offered to their enslavement were rarely open or violent confrontation. Rather, it was constant, steady pressure. The main goal of resistance was survival to insure the most decent life possible within an intrinsically indecent institution. Slaves rarely were able to overcome the master’s ultimate control over them, but they were able to prevent such control from becoming total. Slave resistance, flowing out of the slave’s Afro-American culture, allowed an enslaved people to nurture the spark of freedom until it could burst into flame during the civil war.

More about Resistance to Slavery and Race Oppression

Get Access