Closer to Freedom: Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South

Closer to Freedom: Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South

Closer to Freedom: Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South

Closer to Freedom: Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South

Excerpt

All margins are dangerous. If they are pulled this way
or that the shape of fundamental experience is altered.

—Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger

In the past three decades or so, the question of slave resistance in the United States has won the attention of dozens of historians. Beyond only historians of slavery, even scholars of the Old South not specializing in the topic have given thought and space to the issue in their books. It was, after all, the existence of slave resistance and the study of it that helped to move American scholarship on slavery from the plantation nostalgia of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and the “Sambo” theses of midcentury to the impassioned “accommodation versus resistance” debate of the past few decades. This argument has shaped the contours of much of what we have learned about life in the Old South.

A cursory review of the literature would suggest that the argument revolved around such either/or questions as Did enslaved people identify with their owners, or did they infuse their lives with independent religious and cultural meanings? Were their families destroyed by the slave trade, or did they rebuild, remember, and endure? Did they submit to slaveholders' authority, or did they condemn it as immoral and unjust? On closer inspection, scholarship from approximately the 1970s through the end of the twentieth century was rarely so simply framed, and much of it provided the foundation for recent work that explicitly dissolves dichotomous choices. Some scholars of slavery now consciously explore the contradictory and paradoxical qualities in bondpeople's lives: for instance, the ways in which they were both agents and subjects, persons and property, and people who resisted and who accommodated —sometimes in one and the same act. Enslaved people were many things at once, and they were many things at different moments and in various places. They lived multiple lives, some visible to their owners and to . . .

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