Slavery times were very difficult for African Americans, in reading this passage, this was very evident in many ways. The passage begins with the story of John, a 17-year-old slave who was separated from his family and put to work at a plantation in South Carolina. It was very difficult for John to have a simple family life. His mother made the most amazing of sacrifices to see her son by not only walking twelve miles to see John but also risking being beaten if she didn’t return by dawn. Basic freedom was sadly not much of a thing during this time. When John’s mother passed away when he was 13, he wasn’t even allowed to attend his mother’s funeral because he had to work on the field that day. I could never imagine not being able to attend the funeral of a close family member and thinking of that happening is just terrible. During the time of this story, being a slave and trying to be a unified family unit was a very stressful period. The most common form of family life was the nuclear family, where husband, wife, and children all live together. Although this was the most common form of family life at this time, it was a very short-lived experience for African Americans because of the constant fear of being separated by their slave masters. When it came to choices pertaining to family issues, slaves didn’t have much of a choice due to not being able to be legally married or possibilities of not living with their children. If slaves were able to live with their children, they didn’t have any authority over them because slave masters always had the final say.
The importance of effects of the social context of families became very important as changes in the structure of the African American family over time affected our daily interactions with one another in not only our families but also in other relationships.
A large emphasis has been put on the history of the African American family because more research has been done on African Americans, especially due to African Americans being the only group legally enslaved for a long time period. I found this interesting because in recent years, research has been increasing among other minority groups and I was surprised that a lot of this research wasn’t around many years ago. Another thing that I found very surprising as that African Americans were the largest racial ethnic group in the United States until the 2000 census, only 18 years ago. Changes in this social context must be considered in order to better examine how the daily lives of African Americans have changed throughout the years. In examining these changes, it is important to address the political economy. A political economy is how a society organizes its political and economic institutions. Slavery is an example of a political economy that affected the family life of African Americans and created changes in the daily lives of African Americans.
In explaining the family dynamic among slaves, it is also important to address a central piece of a family, the woman/wife/mother. Throughout slavery, the woman/s body was never her own. The African American woman made no choices when it came to many things, but sadly, her body was included among these things. African American women were passed along among white men. It’s great to know that women have come a long way since then, but it is also horrible to imagine what these women had to go through and to know that they risked their lives if they were to fight this treatment is something that is hard to fathom. The passage mentions the story of an enslaved woman named Celia, who was raped numerous times by her owner since she was 14. When Celia was finally able to defend herself and kill her master, likely saving not only herself, but potentially other women as well, she was executed for her actions. This obviously was terribly unfair because although her master had children that he left behind, Celia did as well. Although slave masters had no regard for the African American woman, in the African American community during slavery times, Angela Davis, a scholar and activist, emphasizes the importance of the African American woman in terms of community and keeping families together. Davis found that often times African American woman led community activities, an example being the Underground Railroad. I find it amazing that African American women took on such leadership during slavery and even risked so much by helping runaways, even in South Carolina, where quarters had to be searched regularly because of how common it was for slaves to run away.
Herbert Gutman, another scholar, argues that despite many obstacles during this time, families during slavery were actually more unified than ever and even displayed different ways to represent this unity, including actions such as jumping the broom. I found this interesting because even though African Americans had gone through so much during slavery, they still found a way to make an amazing community among one another and remain unified through these difficult times. There are many examples that show this unity throughout the passage, including the story of John’s mother walking thirteen miles to visit him and rising being beaten. Another example of this is when slave men would go out to see their wives, they risked beatings by Patterollers, known for their brutality to slaves traveling at night without proper documentation.
Although Gutman paints a better-looking picture of the African American family during slavery, Angela Davis has slightly different views. Davis believes that slaves may have aspired to have the nuclear family dynamic, slavery disrupted this. In my opinion, this is a fair and sound assumption because Gutman’s research focuses more on the families who successfully maintained this family dynamic and Davis better acknowledges the many challenges of maintaining the nuclear family unit. What I like most about Davis’ research is that a more dominant family unit among slaves was actually an extended family of people related by blood and people who weren’t blood, but close friends as well. I like this because the extended family tends to be a very prominent form of family dynamic in today’s time and I could see this being a very realistic account of the average family during slavery times. Although I like Angela Davis’ account of African American families during slavery, I also like Wiggins’ account that emphasizes a large sense of community among African Americans.
This passage has helped me examine the different ways in which African Americans stayed unified as not only families, but a community of people going through the same situation. I found this passage very interesting because I have already learned a lot about African American families during slavery that I did not know about. I look forward to learning more about African American families throughout the semester.