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Slavery Remembered: A Record of Twentieth-Century Slave Narratives

By Paul D. Escott | Go to book overview

4.
Bases of a Black Culture

Southern plantations encompassed two worlds, one white and one black, one the master's and one the slaves'. At the core of the slaves' world was a strong sense of unity with the black community and a corresponding awareness of fundamental separation from white people. Even an orphaned slave girl who had been raised by her mistress instinctively left the whites when freedom came. "I knowed I ought to go to my own race of people," she explained. "I wanted to go to my color." Another former slave put the matter more forcefully: "White folks jes' naturally different from darkies. . . . We's different in color, in talk and in 'ligion and beliefs. We's different in every way and can never be spected to think or to live alike." Both these former slaves expressed their feeling that an essential difference existed between whites and blacks on the plantation and that their loyalty lay with members of their own community. 1

This mental and social separation grew from and reinforced an underlying cultural difference. African culture had not been able to sustain itself in pure form under the unfavorable conditions of North America, but African descendants had built a black culture that could sustain their lives. Divided into hostile camps, blacks and whites developed separate systems of values and acted upon contrasting conceptions of ethics. Moreover, each group lived in a separate religious universe, although outwardly almost all southerners were Christians and Protestants. The slaves' culture involved different relations to the spiritual world, different attitudes toward nature and its powers, and a remembered connection with Africa. These and the conditions

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