Glory Bound: Black Athletes in a White America

By David K. Wiggins | Go to book overview

1
The Play of Slave Children in the Plantation Communities of the Old South, 1820-1860

Most of the earliest studies done on Southern plantation life portrayed slaves as people without a culture, without philosophical beliefs, and without educational instruments of their own.1 Historians often viewed slaves as barbarians to be civilized; as perpetual children at best, and animals at worst. As such, it was assumed that slaves held no strong values or convictions and that they were without a coherent culture or social organization of their own. To suggest that slaves were capable of molding or fashioning their own particular life-style was inconceivable. The more current research, however, has altered our perceptions of what the "peculiar institution" was really like. Many scholars now assert that slaves were capable of creating their own "unique cultural forms" largely free from the control of whites. Regardless of how cruel the plantation became for slaves, their struggle for survival never became so severe that it destroyed their creative instincts or prevented them from establishing their own personal way of life. The distinguishing elements of their culture--superstitions, religion, recreation, music, folktales, and language --allowed the slaves a degree of individual autonomy and self-respect. While slaves recognized the superior power that whites held as a group, they resisted the total assimilation of white culture.2

The play of slave children between the years 1820 and 1860 makes clear that they were similar to adult slaves in recognizing their uniqueness and separate identity as a group. Play was essential to slave children because it was one means through which they learned the values and mores of their parents' world. Play became a means by which cultural traits were preserved from one generation to the next. Like all young people, slave children liquidated some of their problems and relieved themselves of worries and anxieties by talking about and dramatizing

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