Antebellum Slave Narratives
Cultural and Political Expressions of Africa
Routledge – 2009 – 128 pages
Though America experienced an increase in a native-born population and an emerging African-American identity throughout the nineteenth century, African culture did not necessarily dissipate with each passing decade. Archer examines the slave narratives of four key members of the abolitionist movement—Frederick Douglass, William Wells Brown, Harriet Tubman and Harriet Jacobs—revealing how these highly visible proponents of the antislavery cause were able to creatively engage and at times overcome the cultural biases of their listening and reading audiences. When engaged in public sphere discourses, these individuals were not, as some scholars have suggested, inclined to accept unconditionally stereotypical constructions of their own identities. Rather they were quite skillful in negotiating between their affinity with antislavery Christianity and their own intimate involvement with slave circle dance and improvisational song, burial rites, conjuration, divination, folk medicinal practices, African dialects and African inspired festivals. The authors emerge as more complex figures than scholars have imagined. Their political views, though sometimes moderate, often reflected a strong desire to strike a fierce blow at the core of the slavocracy.
1. "Speaking Guinea and a Mixture of Everything Else": The Slave Narratives of Frederick Douglass Re-visited 2. William Wells Brown: Subtle Whispers of Slave Culture, Pan-Africanism & Insurgency 3. "Moses Is Got De Charm": Harriet Tubman’s Mosaic Persona 4. Harriet Jacobs: A Larger Discussion of the John Kuner Parade and Other Cultural Recollections 5. Discourse on the Slave Narrative and a New Interpretation on Black Anti-Slavery Ideology
Jermaine Archer is an Assistant Professor of History in the American Studies Department at SUNY, College at Old Westbury. His essay "Bitter Herbs and a Lock of Hair: Recollections of Africa in Slave Narratives of the Garrisonian Era" recently appeared in Michael Gomez ed., Diasporic Africa. He has also contributed essays on the significance of dreams in the African-American folk tradition and on the scholarship and activism of George P. Rawick in the Encyclopedia of African-American Folklore.