Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Slave resistance

 When I studied African American slave resistance at Uni, I thought it was incredibly interesting how men and women fought actively and passively against their masters to prove their independence. Some men, like Nat Turner, attempted to start a slave revolt in 1831, but this was suppressed by government of Virginia, who had Turner executed. Judging by the 'success' rate of such revolts, it seems fair to say that daily resistance was far more effective. Silent sabotage could be used to threaten the master’s hold over his slaves, using any means necessary to assert their individuality. Slaves would break agricultural tools, claiming they didn’t know how to use spades or hoes; others took all day to kill livestock, and one slave pretended to be blind for 40 years to get a smaller workload. Self-inflicted violence was also common, from suicide to infanticide.

Slaves would also use religion as effective resistance. Combining traditional African practices with Christianity, religious meetings were held in slave quarters, and language, dancing and storytelling was passed down through the generations.
Thousands of slaves ran away from their plantations, sometimes creating ‘maroon’ communities in parts of the South. Some joined the Seminole Indian tribes in Florida, although this led to a war in the early 1820’s and again in the 1830’s. Abolitionists helped slaves escape in the ‘Underground Railroad’, with anti-slavery supporters lining the routes, former slaves would lay low across America before escaping to the North or Canada. Frederick Douglass admitted that “as a means of destroying slavery, it was like an attempt to bail out the ocean with a teaspoon”, yet he believed that one less slave made his life more bearable.

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