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African Americans In Slavery Essay, Research Paper

Jonathan Whitenight


Dr. Blake-Religion

African American Religion

“ Slavery is terrible for men; but it is far more terrible for women. Superadded to the burden common to all, they have wrongs, and sufferings, and mortifications peculiarly their own.” ( Harriet Brent “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” page 119). Gender played a key role in slavery and after reading “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” it is obvious that women in slavery received far worse treatment then that of men. Not to take away the incredible injustices that were dealt upon men during slavery America, but more to emphasize the even greater hardships that African-American women faced during this time period. This paper will consist of a comparison between gender roles, religion (faith), and overall treatment of men versus women during slavery.

Specific incidents collected from “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,” “Black Boy” (author Richard Wright), and various web sites will be the basis for this document. It is impossible to compare any hardships suffered by either sex during slavery to personal experience so no attempt will be made to do so. The main point will be to compare males and females in every aspect of slavery and how each dealt with their circumstances.

The church system at the time of slavery was also very influential towards the treatment of slaves and especially female slaves because the white interpretation or foggy misrepresentation of the bible held white males as the superior in all aspects of life. Not even a white woman would be considered a white males equal let alone an African-American women. One example of misrepresentation of the gospel was evident in a sermon given by Mr. Pike in “Incidents in the life of a slave girl.” “ Hearken ye servants! Give strict heed unto my words. You are rebellious sinners. Your hearts are filled with all manner of evil. ‘Tis the devil who tempts you. God is angry with you, and will surely punish you, if you don’t forsake your wicked ways. You that live in town are eye-servants behind your master’s back. Instead of serving your masters faithfully, which is pleasing in the sight of your heavenly master, you are idle, and shirk your work. God sees you. You tell lies. God hears you. Instead of engaged in worshipping him, you are hidden away somewhere feasting on your master’s substance; tossing coffee-grounds with some wicked fortuneteller, or cutting cards with another old hag. Your master may not find you out, but God sees you, and he will punish you. O, the depravity of your hearts!” (page 106) This is the religion that the slaves were allowed to receive. White people’s attempt to put the fear of God into slaves work in some instances but the men and women who’s faith in God had not been warn down by the constant tyranny of their masters found a way to survive and to eventually flourish. The power of faith is incredible when it can overcome everything a person has been taught since they were born on the soul basis of knowing what is right.

White men used Gods name to put fear into slaves. They used Gods name to scare slaves from running away or rebelling against their masters. The slaves that felt God had given up on them and had punished them by putting them in their current situation were easily manipulated by the white mans propaganda. The slaves that didn’t believe in the white people’s claims could be warn down through flogging, torture, and just overall exhaustion. There is only so much a human can take before their will is just broken down and eventually destroyed. For female slaves this was especially true. They faced the fear of being beaten, tortured, and most severely rapped by the masters on a daily basis. Young girls born into slavery were much of the time verbally and sexually abused by their masters. This was a form of physical and mental torture that men in slavery would never have to endure. One religious aspect for these poor girls is if they were to get pregnant during one of these meetings with their masters they were told they are viewed as impure in God’s eyes. Even the girls own family would look down upon them if they were to get pregnant. Worse still is that when the child was born by law they follow the mothers status in life. Thus these children although half white were forced into slavery by their own fathers often to be sold on the auction block.

One would think these slave girls would receive some type of sympathy from their mistresses who might understand from a female standpoint of the torture endured by these poor girls. One would be extremely wrong. Many mistresses viewed these illegitimate children as a source of great jealousy towards these young girls. No white woman wanted to even consider that her husband would have affection for a black woman over herself. Women who got pregnant in slavery were forbidden to ever speak the name of the child’s father so that they would not implicate the white male in this despicable crime. This rule was also used to hide the truth from the mistresses. Most of the time the mistresses kept their mouths shut form their husbands but they made sure the children were ripped form their mother’s care and sold as soon as they could profit. No human love is stronger than a mother’s love for her child. No pain is greater than if that child is torn away from its mother and never to see each other again. If the slave girl was lucky she might be sold with her children as well but this was a rare case.

Harriet Brent said it best, “ I admit that black man is inferior. But what is it that makes him so? It is the ignorance in which white men compel him to live; it is the torturing whip that lashes the manhood out of him; it is the fierce bloodhounds of the South, and the scarcely less cruel human bloodhounds of the north, which enforce the Fugitive Slave Law. They do the work.” ( “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” page 68) How can a man become intelligent if he is never taught? At the very least black men were allowed to learn a trade, which would enable them to benefit the white families they served. Since it was illegal for slaves to learn to read or to teach each other many slaves were forced to teach themselves if they wanted to gain knowledge. Women in slavery were persecuted even more severely for learning how to read because it was viewed as trying to make their masters look inferior. It is absolutely mind boggling to think of what African-American women were forced to go through to read a book or teach their children to read all in the quest for knowledge so that one day they could escape the awful grasp of slavery.

According to a web site called African American History,

(http://www.wvu.edu/~ghacad/africa/history2.html) African American men were often castrated or brutally beaten and murdered if they were found to have had any relation with a slave master’s daughter. Yet there is a double standard, for if a slave master’s son were to take advantage of a slave girl no penalty and sometimes-even praise would be administered. Treatment of female slaves was so bad that many girls upon becoming pregnant would immediately pray for a boy or pray for a miscarriage. According to another website on slave experiences

(http://scriptorium.lib.duke.edu/slavery/) many slave masters intentionally got their female slaves pregnant so that they could not escape from their plantations. This is another clear disadvantage for women in slavery because pregnancy could be used as an invisible chain for the slave masters to keep them from escaping. If these pregnant girls decided to run away in order to save their baby they almost always were caught because they were unable to travel long distances just out of a lack in strength. For men escape could occur with “no strings attached,” so to speak. Women with children, on the other hand, have a maternal obligation to their little ones whom they have been nurturing since the womb. “ I was dreaming of freedom again; more for my children’s sake than my own. I planned and I planned. Obstacles hit against plans. There seemed to be no way of overcoming them; and yet I hope.” ( Harriet Brent “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” page 126)

One thing both women and men in slavery learned and learned fast was that no matter what the cost (short of death) an education and faith in God were the strongest elements in surviving for them. Richard Wright writes in his autobiography, “ Was I always to hang on the fringes of life? What I wanted was truly modest, and yet my past, my diet, my hunger, had snatched it from before my eyes. But these self-doubts did not last long; I dulled the sense of loss through reading, reading, writing and more writing.” (“Black Boy American Hunger” page331) They all considered their minds their most important muscle on their body and they would deem it weak if it was not exercised as often as possible. Information gathered from a web site concerning a musical group named the Jubilee Singers,

(http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/singers.html) contained the story of Dr. George White who attempted to open the first educational facility for African Americans. Here is an excerpt from a letter Dr. White wrote expressing his concern for the education of slaves, “We spare no pains or expense in the education of the people. I write thus plainly and earnestly — yet kindly — because a great and good enterprise is in danger of being crippled by this lack of prompt fulfillment of your obligations.”

Dr White knew the importance of education because he knew it would lead to religion by empowering African Americans to read the Bible and not have to have it interpreted by anyone. With Religion came hope and under the circumstances, for the slaves, hope was the only thing giving them the will to go on.

Even though African American people have been discriminated against for many years it pales in comparison to how long women, white or black, have been oppressed for. Women were not even given the right to vote and chose their leaders until the 1920’s. So one can only imagine how hard it would be to be an African American woman during this time. At the very least when male slaves were freed they were sometimes able to obtain paying jobs through a trade they might have learned along the way. Slave women, on the other hand, had to struggle and scrounge to scrap together enough to survive and feed their children at the same time. Finding jobs after becoming “free” was so difficult that many slaves preferred to be enslaved because it was the only way they could provide food and shelter for their children. What other choice were they given? Freedom accompanied by extreme poverty or slavery linked with brute punishment and the overall position of being a piece of property to be sold or traded at anytime perhaps separated from your family.

In conclusion there is obviously enough information in these writings and throughout history of slavery to prove that African American women received far worse treatment during the years of slavery America than the African American Males. Not to down play the treatment of any slave as being fair or even humane male or female, but more to point out the factors that played into the gender roles of each and every individual slave. The power these women upheld with their hope, their faith, and above all their love was absolutely unbelievable and inspirational to anyone who has read about their sufferings. The injustices women withstand both in slavery and freedom will forever be placed atop any other despicable acts in America’s or any other nations history forever.

One last note on this subject is to point out throughout all of these readings the feeling that the women in slavery put more effort into their education then any of the men was extremely evident in their style of writing, their grammar, and their overall intelligence in relating to certain topics. This is one last credit to all women and the incredible triumphs they have had and the thousands of apologies owed to them by men throughout history.

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