Resistance to Slavery
Several forms of resistance to slavery are noted in the Born in Slavery collection. Nat Turner’s insurrection in 1831 is referenced in an interview given by Fannie Berry in February 1937.
A number of the narratives mention both abortive and successful escapes from Southern plantations. Read several of the narratives listed below, all of which recount escapes from slavery or actions that slaves believed slaveholders took to prevent escapes:
Conduct a full-text search using Harriet Tubman as your search term to find other former slaves who discussed this courageous woman.
- What difficulties faced slaves who tried to escape? What does this suggest about their desire for freedom?
- What strategies did the former slaves think the slaveholders were using to prevent them from running away? Do you think these strategies would be effective? Why or why not?
- How do you think slaves learned about the work of Harriet Tubman? Remember that most could not read, so they could not read letters or newspapers.
Slaves also defied plantation owners by holding forbidden prayer services. Harriet Cheatam, born in 1843 in Gallatin, Tennessee, is one of many who described using pots to muffle sounds from clandestine prayer meetings:
We often had prayer meeting out in the quarters, and to keep the folks in the “big house” from hearing us, we would take pots, turn them down, put something under them, that let the sound go in the pots, put them in a row by the door, then our voices would not go out, and we could sing and pray to our heart’s content.
From “Folklore,” image 53
Interviewees from different regions of the South told similar stories of using upturned pots to keep overseers from hearing prayers or discussions in slave cabins (see, for example, the interview with Kitty Hill of North Carolina). What can you infer from the existence of this type of day-to-day resistance?