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African Americans resisted the practice of slavery and the trade of slavery from its inception in the United Stated in the early 1600 s to its end in the middle 1800 s. They resisted it in the fields and in the big house; they resisted by organized rebellions; and they resisted by direct, spontaneous acts of courage. For their freedom slaves killed and were killed. They ran away, and their masters ran after them.
They fought and died. They also survived. The conditions of slaves that survived varied. How well they were treated depended on their owner and the type of work they did. The field hands had it the hardest. They worked the longest hours and lived under the worst conditions.
They had little clothing and one pair of shoes that had to last them a whole year. They lived in a single room and most had beds made out of straw and old rags. The house slaves, on the other hand, had it a lot better. They often lived in their owner's home and had much more privileges than did the field hands. The house slaves had a better chance of getting freed by their owner.
The men usually did the outdoor chores, while the women did more of the domestic duties. While these domestic duties tended to add work to the slave woman's day, the domestic work was a way for women to rebel against the master to keep themselves and their families healthy. The family was important to most slave women, and they had ways of making sure that they stayed together, though these weren't foolproof. For example, slave owners refrained from selling women that demonstrated fertility, in that case female slaves would get pregnant at and early age. "Women slaves also represented and authority figure within their community" (Reid p. 3). Wives were often able to provoke otherwise aggressive husbands into acts of rebellion against the master. In addition, mothers often educated their children, teaching them how to sew or do other household chores that they would need to be able to do for their families.
Elder women often learned herbal medicine, and were viewed as the 'doctors' with in the communities, which was especially important since the white doctors did not visit the black community. Female slaves did not want their children to become slaves, if it was possible at all to avoid it. Many women tried to escape with their children. Some felt that they'd rather kill their children than have them become slaves. A good example of this is Margaret Garner. She and her husband and children escaped with a group of other slaves in the winter on 1856, when the Ohio River was frozen over.
They made it to the other side of the river into freedom, but there their pursuers caught up with them. When it became evident to Margaret that they would not remain free, she attempted to kill her children and herself. She slit the throat of her youngest daughter, but was restrained before she could complete the task. She was then returned to her master.
Sexual relationships between slave owners and their female slaves were extremely common on the plantations of the south. "These forced sexual relationships most often took the form of cruel beatings and savage rapes. Numerous stories illustrate the brutal whippings, lashings, and bludgeoning's masters inflicted upon female slaves who refused to participate in their perverse pleasures" (Marrow p. 32). The biggest problem that evolved from the master / female slave sexual relationship was that of the jealous mistress (wife). The female slave was often the cause of marital difficulties that usually resulted in the sale or severe punishment of the slave. A female slave was not allowed to reveal the master's name as father of her child even though many slave women had babies with blue eyes had light hair. Slaves also had other ways of expressing their anger and hatred for the institution.
Music and slave tales were a central living element to slave families. It also gave them hope that there was a better life out there. These tales were the vehicle through which slaves rehearsed their tactics, laughed at the follies of their master and themselves, and taught their young the way to survive. These tales were based on actual occurrences. Slave songs were about grueling work, their masters or each other. "These songs also had other important functions. They were used for the purpose of preserving communal values and solidarity songs provided the occasion for the individual to transcend at least symbolically restrictions of his or her environment by expressing deep feelings, which could not be verbalized.
The meaning of slave songs were often dismissed by whites as nonsense" (Levine p. 44). Today freedom is something that is taken for granted. Thanks to the strength and determination of slaves they have won the fight for freedom. Every African American slave including women, men, and children should be acknowledged for their courage.
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