How Slaves Learned to Be Slaves and Whites to Become Masters
Plantation agriculture created a culture in which commanding a slave became a mark of distinction. Large owners left a slave to each of their children as one of the accoutrements of a respectable lady or gentleman. White children of necessity had to learn to be masters and their black companions to be slaves. Much of this learning occurred through the stories of black-white relationships which slaves told each other. The stories formed a body of black literature which was passed along with other skills like singing and playing. White masters had to learn to provide supplies for their workforce—food, clothing, housing. Management of a large plantation called for the skills of a quartermaster. Whites, furthermore, even white women, had to learn to demand and to punish. As they grew, black children had to decide if they were to seek to be trusted by their masters or take a chance on resistance. Resistance could involve little more than slacking off work when not under the master’s gaze. Or it could mean running away. During the Revolution, black families that were seemingly quiescent took the chance on joining the British forces and ran away. Blacks concealed their true feelings in hiding places in their minds.
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