Between Slavery and Freedom: Philosophy and American Slavery

By Howard McGary; Bill E. Lawson | Go to book overview

Three.
Resistance and Slavery

HOWARD McGARY

HISTORIANS HAVE documented rebellions and revolts by blacks who were held as slaves.1 There were violent confrontations between blacks and whites as slaves fought to break their bondage. These occurrences were rare, however, and this fact has led some scholars to question the extent and nature of slave resistance. My aim in this chapter is not to list or examine clear-cut cases of resistance by blacks held as slaves, but to argue that there were more subtle forms of resistance that are often overlooked by historians and other scholars interested in the issue of resistance to slavery. Historians who have endorsed what I have labeled subtle forms of resistance count such things as sabotage, disruption, obstruction, noncooperation, ignorance, illness, and the destruction of farm animals and tools as acts of resistance.2 Other historians, like George Fredrickson, Christopher Lasch, and Lawrence Levine, have claimed that such acts should not qualify as acts of resistance.3 For them, resistance is an act that requires planned action involving some actual or potential violence. I disagree, but before we can appreciate the subtle forms of defiance as genuine acts of resistance, we must be clear about what we mean by the concept “resistance.”

In the narrative of Linda Brent, a North Carolina slave, we find an interesting account of how the refusal of women slaves to submit to sexual advances of the slaveholder can be seen as resistance to slavery.4 Elsewhere, we find the refusal by slave women to bear children offered as a form of resistance.5 According to some definitions, these actions cannot qualify as acts of resistance, but the account of resistance that I construct in this chapter will allow us to include these acts.

There is a voluminous body of literature devoted to chattel slavery

-35-

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Between Slavery and Freedom: Philosophy and American Slavery
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Blacks in the Diaspora ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents ix
  • Preface xi
  • Acknowledgments xv
  • Philosophy and American Slavery - An Introduction xvii
  • One - Oppression and Slavery 1
  • Two - Paternalism and Slavery 16
  • Three - Resistance and Slavery 35
  • Four - Citizenship and Slavery 55
  • Five - Moral Discourse and Slavery 71
  • Six - Forgiveness and Slavery 90
  • Notes 113
  • Bibliography 129
  • Index 140
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