How African American Slaves Sought Control Over Their Lives
How African American slaves sought control over their lives People of the African continent were transported to the New World with a sole purpose: enslavement. Between 1501 and 1866 over 12. 5 million Africans were taken from their homeland to be enslaved across the Atlantic.
1 The Middle Passage, as the journey is often called, brutally took many lives before ships arrived at their destination, killing approximately 1. 8 million slaves-to-be. Of the 10. 7 million Africans who survived the dreadful journey, only about 400. 000 were taken directly to North America.There awaited them life of poverty, coercion and hard labor. Enslavement prevented the African Americans from living the life of their choosing: slaves were physically abused and women often sexually harassed; they lived in poverty and were scarcely clothed and fed; families were ripped apart when children were sold to different slave owners; hard labor from sunrise to sunset dominated their daily lives.
However, to say that they had absolutely no control over their lives would be an insult not only to their memory, but also to the strength, endurance and spirit of the African American people.Resistance took shape, amongst others, in the forms of running away, religion and rebellion. To use the words of Philip Morgan “In work and in play, in public and in private, violently and quietly, slaves struggled against masters” . 2 A very common form of resistance was running away and happened in all slave societies. Most of the slaves were not so much running away from something as running towards someone, often to a lover or a lost family member. 3 From this perspective, even motherhood can be seen as a form of resistance. Enslaved women could be separated from their children at any mime, even if they belonged to the same slave owner.
In Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Harriet Jacobs writes how she escaped her master’s sexual harassments by running away. In the hope that her master would sell her children to their biological white father she hid herself in a tiny attic crawlspace at her grandmother’s for seven years. This way she protected her children from becoming plantation slaves en protected herself from sexual harassment. Another form of resistance was Christianity, which many slaves adopted as their religion, being an instrument of support to them. Devout slaves worshiped every day and some held secret meetings which lasted into the night.Slaves adapted Christianity to African practices, believing that, when possessed, the god’s personality takes over the human personality, which was expressed by a combination of shouting, singing and dancing, forming the heart of their religious faith. Crucial to their religious experience were rhythm and physical movement.
Spirituals were an attempt to impose order on the chaos of their lives. “They sought an alternative world -? a home other than the one fate had given them on earth. “4 A more violent form of taking control was rebellion.Slave owners, especially in the south, feared resistance and rebellion, as in some states the number of slaves accounted for more than fifty percent of the population. In Southampton County, Virginia, Nathaniel Turner led the bloodiest slave rebellion in U. S. History, killing nearly seventy whites during two consecutive nights of severing limbs, crushing skulls and shooting victims.
After his furious attempt to gain control over his own life, Nat Turner was captured and hanged, ultimately failing in his rebellion. However, it forever affected slavery ND race relations throughout the country. Even though many aspects of their lives were controlled by the institution of slavery, many African Americans sought ways to gain control over their lives. Whether by running away, through the practice of religion, or by bloody rebellion, African Americans resisted slavery and oppression, demonstrating the courage and strength of a people who lived in a land they could not yet call home.