AFR 329: Women & Slavery in the Black Atlantic – Course Collaboration, Amaya Bradford

After multiple class sessions introducing our archival and manuscript collections and oral history best practices, students in Dr. Nneka Dennie’s Spring 2019 AFR 329: Women & Slavery in the Black Atlantic course produced a documentary using oral histories created throughout the semester. These materials will be donated to the Archives.

In addition to this main project, students were tasked with identifying primary sources from local archives, historic sites, and/or repositories that shed light on the lived experiences of enslaved women or women enslavers. The following series of blog posts are authored by these students upon the completion of this archival research process and serve as reflective pieces.

Thank you for your submissions-and a wonderful semester of fruitful collaborations!

“Primary Source Analysis”

written by Amaya Bradford

During the 1930s and 40s, the Federal Writers Project completed interviews with men and women who were formerly enslaved to tell their stories. This collection is called Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States From Interviews with Former Slaves. These interviews took place after slavery had been abolished, with many of these people being at young ages when they were set free. One particular woman was named Fannie Moore and was from Asheville, North Carolina. In her interview, she gives much insight into how enslaved women’s gender interacted with slavery in North Carolina, specifically around the Charlotte/Asheville area.

Moore mentions her mother frequently in her interview. It is revealed that her mother was fiercely protective over children as Moore states, “She stan’ up fo’ her chillun tho’. De ol’ overseeah he hate my mammy, case she fight him for beatin’ her chillun. Why she git more whuppins for dat den anythin’ else” (pg. 131). This depiction of Moore’s mother gives her the heroine title of Moore’s story, since she protects her children from physical punishment with her own body.

Similarly, a contract is created in 1867 that binds an enslaved woman, Vina, and her four to Margaret Torrance at Cedar Grove Plantation for two years of labor, in exchange for food and clothing. This is another example of enslaved women putting their children above themselves and using different methods to protect them. In this example, Vina is protecting her children from starvation and the weather, instead of explicit physical punishment, even though they were more than likely at risk for such.

Image of two pages of text from "Plantation World Around Davidson." The right page features a two story brick home, also known as "Cedar Grove."
Image of pages 70 and 71 from former College Archivist’s, Dr. Chalmers Davidson, “Plantation World Around Davidson.” Cedar Grove Plantation is pictured, here.

The interview with Fannie Moore and Vina’s contract reveals that enslaved women in North Carolina commonly used their bodies to protect their children. They ensued their roles as mothers, during a time when enslaved women were stripped of their maternity, with is also an act of resistance against the institution of slavery.

Since their bodies were constantly used as shields, they were the most subject to abuse. Going back to Moore’s interview, she also describes a woman named Aunt Cheney, who had light skinned children by the sexual assault of a white man, get sold separate from her children since she was a “breed woman”, and was frequently whipped by her abuser. While Aunt Cheney did not explicitly receive punishment to protect her children, her body was still used as an area of violence.  All these women were subject to physical violence by their enslavers, with the connection to their reproductive rights and maternity. Enslaved women in North Carolina had a lack of control over their reproductive choices because of sexual violence and lack of agency, but commonly, the children they had were fiercely protected with the continual use of their bodies.

Bibliography

Work Projects Administration. “SLAVE NARRATIVES.” The Project Gutenberg EBook of Slave Narratives, North Carolina, Part 2, (A Folk History of Slavery in the United States From Interviews with Former Slaves), by Work Projects Administration., www.gutenberg.org/files/31219/31219-h/31219-h.htm#Page_127.

“Vina’s Contract.” Torrance and Banks Family Papers, digitalcollections.uncc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/p16033coll14/id/11.

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