African Women under Slavery

7 July 2016

This paper discusses the experiences of African American Women under slavery during the Slave Trade, their exploitation, the secrecy, the variety of tasks and positions of slave women, slave and ex-slave narratives. Also, this paper presents the hardships African American women faced and the challenges they overcame to become equal with men in today’s society. Slavery was a destructive experience for African Americans especially women. Black women suffered doubly during the slave era. Slave Trade The West African Slave Trade was a global event that focused on West Africa.

It was the sale and ownership of another human being that was put into slavery. It was a type of “forced Migration” that lasted 300 years. From around 1551 thru 1850 about 15 million people were brought into the slave trade it is said that roughly 5 million people did not survive, and may have immediately died before making through the shock of enslavement. About 10 million people in the western hemisphere survived and were sold on the auction block. Generations continued into slavery, the offspring was also brought into slavery.

African Women under Slavery Essay Example

The owners liked the idea of their slaves reproducing. This meant their work force would grow without having to spend much money on slaves. About 250 million lived in slavery throughout the 300 years. Slavery was also a traditional part of African society, various states and kingdoms in Africa operated one or more of the following: chattel slavery, debt bondage, forced labor, and serfdom. Ghana, Mali, Songhai were kingdoms that had large economies and supported large populations, they had knowledge of agriculture, and grew many different crops that sustained many people.

Because of the West African Slave Trade, These kingdoms were affected by greed and would often go to war and capture prisoners to sell into slavery. The Middle Passage was the journey of slave trading ships from the west coast of Africa, where the slaves were obtained, across the Atlantic, where they were sold or, in some cases, traded for goods such as molasses, which was used in the making of rum. However, this voyage has come to be remembered for much more than simply the transport and sale of slaves. The

Middle Passage was the longest, hardest, most dangerous, and also most horrific part of the journey of the slave ships. With extremely tightly packed loads of human cargo that stank and carried both infectious disease and death, the ships would travel east to west across the Atlantic on a miserable voyage lasting at least five weeks, and sometimes as long as three months. Although incredibly profitable for both its participants and their investing backers, the terrible Middle Passage has come to represent the ultimate in human misery and suffering.

The abominable and inhuman conditions which the Africans were faced with on their voyage clearly display the great evil of the slave trade. While there was slavery throughout World History, never has it reached such an epic proportion as during the Middle Passage/ transatlantic slave trade. At this time, no one knows exactly how many Africans died at sea during the Middle Passage experience. Estimates for the total number of Africans lost to the slave trade range from 25 to 50 million. The Middle Passage was a term used to describe the triangular route of trade that brought Africans to the Americas and rum and sugar cane to Europe.

It was synonymous with pain and suffering. The journey from Africa to the Americas would take as many as 30 to 90 days. Many of the ships were called “loose packers” which meant that the slaves were not overlapping each other or “tight packers”, describing the capacity of the slave ship. The smell of rotten bodies thrown overboard lured sharks to the ships route; European countries participating in the slave trade accumulated tremendous wealth and global power from the capturing and selling of Africans into slavery.

Originally, slaves were sold to the Portuguese and Spanish colonies in South and Central Americas to work on sugar cane plantations. The middle passage was the worst thing that could happen to African American slaves. For most women who endured it, the experience of the Slave Trade was one of being outnumbered by men. Roughly one African woman was carried across the Atlantic for every two men. The captains of slave ships were usually instructed to buy as high a proportion of men as they could, because men could be sold for more in the Americas.

Women thus arrived in the American colonies as a minority. For some reason, women did not stay a minority. Slave records found that most plantations, even during the period of the slave trade, there were relatively equal numbers of men and women. Slaveholders showed little interest in women as mothers. Their willingness to pay more for men than women, despite the fact than children born to enslaved women would also be the slave-owners’ property and would thus increase their wealth.

Women who did have children, always struggled with the impossible conflict between, their own physical needs and their children’s need for care, not to mention the requirements forced on them by plantation work regimes. Women’s inability to maintain the pace of work required by plantation owners during pregnancy, their need for recovery time after childbirth, and the needs of their young children to be fed, cleaned, loved, and integrated spiritually and socially into the human community, all brought them into conflict with the demands of the owners and managers of the plantations on which they worked1.

Exploitation The slave owner’s exploitation of the African woman’s sexuality was one of the most significant factors differentiating the experience of slavery for males and females. The white man’s claim to the slave body, male as well as female, was inherent in the concept of the Slave Trade and was tangibly realized perhaps nowhere more than the auction block. Captive Africans were stripped of their clothing, oiled down, and poked and prodded by potential buyers. The erotic undertones of such scenes were particularly pronounced in the case of black women.

Throughout the period of slavery in America, white society believed black women to be innately lustful beings. The perception of the African woman as hyper-sexual made her both the object of white man’s disgust and his fantasy. Within the bounds of slavery, masters often felt it was their right to engage in sexual activity with black women. Sometimes, female slaves made advances hoping that such relationships would increase the chances that they or their children would be liberated by the master; most of the time, slave owners took slaves by force.

For the most part, masters made young, single slaves the objects of their sexual pursuits. They did on occasion rape married women. The inability of the slave husband to protect his wife from such violation points to another fundamental aspect of the relationship between enslaved men and women. The restrictions of slave law and circumstances of slave life created a sense of parity between black wives and husbands. A master’s control over both spouses reduced the black male’s potential for dominance over his wife.

Whenever possible, black slave women manipulated their unique circumstances in the struggle for their personal dignity and that of their families. Black women rebelled against the inhumanities of slave owners. Like their ancestors and counterparts in Africa, most slave women took their motherhood seriously. They put their responsibilities before their own safety and freedom, provided for children not their own, and gave love even to those babies born from violence2. Secrecy

Due to the sexual escapades of the white slave owners, both white and African American women had to keep births on the plantation a secret. A female slave was never able to say who the father of her child was. In some of the books on slave records, the father of the slave child would not be recorded because the child would have the status of the mother, regardless. If the female slave ever tried to tell who the father of her child was, she could be sent to jail, beaten, sold to another owner, or killed as a result.

If a mistress knew that her husband was cheating on her, there was not very much that she could do. In some cases, the white women would make the slave woman work harder, be very rude to her, or even ask her husband to beat her3. Traditions With many diverse women coming from various places in Africa the daily living, clothing, religion and vast personal mile stones like circumcision, birth, and even marriage are handled differently. Beginning from a child where you grow determines the traditions you inherit.

Children in rural Africa communities were all seen as sons and daughters of the entire community. After being sold as slaves many families were torn apart, which mean people had to carry this tradition along because there actually family were gone. On plantations every adult was respected as one’s mother or father. Older women and men stood cherished for the fact they were the wisest to the way to survive. One day a week the slave families would be allowed to gather for a type of religious gathering where they were only allowed to praise whomever they worshiped for an hour of the day.

Polygamy was also practiced by many of the slaves, either men had many wives or vice versa. This was brought over to the plantations, as it was also practiced in the homeland. Variety of Tasks and Positions of Slave Women African American women were responsible for a lot of tasks that had to be done inside of the slave owners household or fields. Enslaved women were charged with a different variety of tasks such as cooking, cleaning, laundry, running errands, going to the market, plantation work, looking after children, etc. 4.

Slavery taught women to be self-reliant, whereas white women were dependent socially and economically on men. On plantations, men and women did equally difficult work as stated before but often they did the same jobs. Not all labor by women was traditionally women’s work, though men did not usually perform tasks traditionally done by women. Women worked in the fields alongside the men, but most of the hard labor was performed by the men or women past childbearing age. Pregnant women and nursing mothers were often given lighter work.

Several positions were open to female slaves that were considered skill labor and so quite respected by the slave community. One of these was the cook, who prepared food for the master’s household and for the slaves themselves when they came back from the fields. The other one is sewing. Some women, who knew how, were responsible for sewing the clothes for the entire community and if they were quite excellent, for the master’s family, too. The skill of midwifery was strictly for female slaves, and like cooking and sewing was considered a highly skilled labor.

Learned from the mother or another relative (aunt), a midwife catered to blacks and whites alike, and continues to be a prominent job among African American women. Many times, slave women were looked up to for leadership because of their occupation, their age, or their number of children, and the fact that the work done by the majority of the women was done in groups. The existence of skills was respected labor strictly for women, and the control of child and medical care by women points to the idea that black females were able to order their own community among women5.

Female Slave and Ex-Slave Narratives There were quite a few female slave and ex-slave narratives written during the slave era. As historical documents, slave narratives chronicle the evolution of white supremacy in the South from eighteenth-century slavery through early twentieth-century segregation. Most of these autobiographies as narratives give voice to generations of black people who, despite written off by white southern literature, still found a way to donate a literary legacy of enormous collective significance to the South and the United States.

The narratives portrays slavery as a condition of extreme physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual deprivation, a kind of hell on earth which precipitated the slave’s decision to escape is some sort of personal crisis, such as the sale of a loved one or a dark night of the soul in which hope contends with despair for the spirit of the slave. Impelled by faith in God and a commitment to liberty and human dignity comparable (the slave narratives often stresses) to that of America’s Founding Fathers, the slave undertakes a difficult quest for freedom that climaxes in his or her arrival in the North.

The attainment of freedom is signaled not simply by reaching the Free states, but by renaming oneself and dedicating one’s future to antislavery activism6. Additionally, slave and ex-slave narratives stressed how African Americans survived slavery, making a way out of no way, often times resisting exploitation, occasionally fighting back and escaping in search of a better prospects elsewhere in the North. The most memorable of these narratives evoke the national myth of the American individual’s quest for freedom and for a society based on “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

” Slave and ex-slave narratives are important not only for what they tell us about African American history and literature, but also because they reveal the complexities of the dialogue between whites and blacks in America, particularly African Americans. Several women come to mind when slave and ex-slave narratives is talked about. The first being, Phyllis Wheatley, she became the first African-American woman author to publish a book of Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral.

Another one being Lucy Terry, although her poems was not published until after her death, “Bar Fights” was the first poem composed by another African American woman. Her poems recalls the popular captivity narrative of the colonial period, in which she recounts her experience in captivity among the Indians, and establishes early on the central role of African American women in American literary history. Also, Harriet Jacobs cannot be forgotten. She published “Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl”, which is an account of her brutal life and thrilling escape.

She describes spending seven years of her life hiding in a crawl space – nine feet long, seven feet wide, and three feet long in her narrative. Two of the most iconic women during the slavery period was Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman. Sojourner Truth is now like a nearly mythical figure who was a strong proponent of equal rights for both African Americans and women, never compromising her struggle for one to gain the other. She was the first to attend the First National Women’s Rights Convention in 1850, where she was the only black woman to be a speaker.

Not only was Sojourner Truth a highly visible symbol of abolition on the speaking platform, so was Harriet Tubman. Harriet was a powerful underground force of liberation. She became the most active conductor on the Underground Railroad, returning 19 times and helping 300 slaves escape through the North to Canada7. There are so many more great women such as Frances Harper, Ida Wells-Barnett, Mary Church Terrell, and Anna Cooper that made significant contributions to African American women history.

These women paved the way for other great women like Zora Hurston, Gwendolyn Brooks, Jo Ann Robinson, Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, and Toni Morrison to make their mark in history. Significant Contributions Based on the research and reading, we can agree that women during the slave era made significant contributions that led to monumental changes in equal rights for women. Women have always played second behind the man which makes it hard to feel equal. Women slaves were the central nucleus that kept families together.

The information presented shows that a lot of the families were solely raised by the woman. Black women learned to cope with the problems of raising children without men. Also, because of the experiences of women under slavery, they opened doors for women to have better pay, jobs, and the most important one, being able to vote. Women have made tremendous strides during the abolition era, the feminist era that reemerged in the sixties as a result of the male chauvinism within the Civil Rights, Black Power, and student movements that traces directly back to women under slavery.

This courageous history should inspire every woman today, reflecting back on what our ancestors had to fight for, for us to enjoy the liberties we take for granted. In conclusion, this paper discussed the experiences of African American Women under slavery during the Slave Trade, their exploitation, the secrecy, the variety of tasks and positions of slave women, slave and ex-slave narratives; also, this paper discussed the hardships African American women faced and the challenges they

overcame to become equal with men in today’s society. What must not be forgotten, is that African American women never stopped fighting against racial prejudices and sexual abuses. We will never know the exact number of slave women who were raped, but their testimonies make us think that almost all of them had been raped. Most importantly, the most efficient method women developed was to speak out about their experiences in order to make people discover this hidden part of American history, and they surely did.

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