The Etiquette of Race Relations in the South: A Study in Social Control

By Bertram Wilbur Doyle | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI
THE SLAVE SEES HIMSELF THROUGH HIS MASTER'S EYES

MANY persons who have had occasion to consider the adjustment of the slave to his status have come to the conclusion that, as far as the slave saw himself, the situation was far from ideal. Redpath, for example, spent two or more years in the South, before the war between the states, asking slaves whether they preferred slavery to freedom, or vice versa. His recorded opinion--which we are not certain was not fixed in advance--was that they generally preferred freedom. 1

The Rev. Nehemiah Adams reported in a different vein:

"The slaves, so far as I had seen, were unconscious of any feeling of restraint; the natural order of life proceeded with them; they did not act like a driven, overborne people, stealing about with sulky looks, imbruted by abuse, crazed, or stupid, or melancholic." 2

Any question as to the comparative reliability of two reports which vary so widely is probably unanswerable. However, if latitude were allowed, it might be given to Mr. Adam's report, for, in the main, he had observed slaves in the cities, where the slave population consisted largely of house servants, who lived under more or less intimate personal relations with their masters, and where conditions of life were generally better. Moreover, in such places, the etiquette was, at the same time, more complex and more rigid.

And, yet, the intention of the, inquirer was, and is, to determine how far the slaves had come to accept slavery as a part of. the natural order, as one accepts the weather, the climate, and the universe. We may complain about the weather, but we put

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