Disclosure: My responses are from a direct account of my grandfather who remembered vividly having to call a man “Massa” on a plantation as a young boy. My beloved granddad, rest his soul, gave our family a wealth of information that we will always share with our generations as well as others. My grandfather and his 13 siblings were not the typical family back in his day to say the least as his father was a caucasian French man and his mother was Native American and black.
- Region of the US – The south was for slavery which is why the slaves fled to the north for slavery through different paths including the underground railroad system. There were also slave holders in the North as well but not as embedded like the South.
- Place slaves lived and worked- Slaves lived and worked on plantation farms. Some slaves were willing and some were not since there were some slave owners that were barbaric.
- Type of labor slaves performed- There were recruiting slaves, in house slaves, and slaves that worked in the fields and all of the duties of the slaves involved labor since none of them were promised to live another day.
- Work conditions or rhythms- Slaves often sang songs that were uplifting that were called hymns which are still sung today whether or not they were in good conditions or bad. The rhythms of the songs kept the slaves going and they pressed on with their faith regardless of their inhumane treatment.
- Food, clothing, shelter- Food, clothing, and shelter was better than what our homeless have today. The slaves improvised and made the best of what they had. Food was more of a problem than I initially thought as in the movies, you always saw the slaves making food from the crops or that their slave owners were taking very good care of them. According to Bibb, food, clothing and shelter depended on what type of slave owner one had or what state they lived in.
- Family life- Family life was filled with disparity as well as joy because most slaves worshipped their God and knew that he would reveal things and get them through to their real purpose in life. Per Bibb marriage and courtship was not what he intended on participating in because he fantasized about his freedom so much from slavery but he did fall in love with a mulatto woman. He didn’t think that he could fall in love because he was a slave. He married her and had a child with her but had visiting restrictions since they had different owners.
- Education or training- Slaves were not dumb. Slaves knew how to read and some of their slaves masters could not. I learned through Bibb’s account as to how the slaves learned. I initially thought that they learned from mimicking or repetition however Bibb stated that a Mrs. Davis was teaching the slaves how to read but the owners found out and they started patrols to break them up at Sabbath school.
- Religion- Religion was important to most slaves, however some simply did not believe in religion because of the atrocities that were being committed against them. There were other leading slaves that mimicked what was preached in the church houses, behind the church houses. I had no idea that superstition among slaves was positively reinforced and Bibbs paid into it as well but it didn’t work. He thought that his master wouldn’t beat him after he had ran off and came back but he did.
- Freedoms , liberties, rights- Freedoms, liberties, and rights were stripped away from the slaves. Freedoms, liberties and rights are still stripped away from some groups today. Bibb also made reference to how poor white men did not have freedoms, liberties or the same rights as rich white slave owners. Bibb was aware of the laws of his native Kentucky, Maryland and Virginia and went on to mention that while they were the mildest of slave states he knew that he would be punished if he ran away and what his consequences would be.
- Slave views of whites-Some slaves felt that their white owners were treating them better than other slave owners, and some felt that they were being held against their will and hated the whites for stealing them. I found it interesting that some slaves viewed whites as family since even though their mothers were raped by their white fathers according to my grandfather (My grandfather’s parents were in love and did what we now call “bucked the system”).
- Slaves’ views of slavery and freedom- Some slaves had no view of slavery because they did not have an understanding as to what was happening to them since some were captured by rival tribes and sold across several nations for trade, war and labor. Freedom was captured by some elite slaves early on, but some slaves had no idea that they were free and were afraid of the unknown and chose to stay on at the plantation farms despite their freedom. Bibb stated that the slaves “viewed themselves as suffering unjustly under the lash, without protection of the law or gospel… and that they know that they are destine to die”.
- The source of your understanding of slavery- The source of my understanding of slavery is my grandfather, my great grandfather, my husband’s great grandmother’s account, my independent study of the Holocaust Museum and the role of Africans, accounts of my friends heritage and my last semester MSU HST and IAH professors all which have my highest regards. Movies like Roots by Alex Haley also made an impression on my and the new program called Underground is also a great story that tells the story of what slaves and the whites that helped them had to endure. My understanding of slavery is now forever edited by the accounts of Mr. Bibb.
Select one of the interviews, click on it, and read the transcript- I chose Jim Allen
What does the former slave being interviewed say that seems new to you? The slaves referred to themselves as the “N” word.
Are there any surprises?
When Mr. Allen spoke of working on the plantation land, he spoke in terms of we which reflects ownership however slaves couldn’t own or claim anything as they were considered as property themselves. My grandfather always said “they had this, and they had that”.
Do any of the ex-slave’s recollections challenge the views of slavery that you wrote down in your 12 categories?
No, Jim Allen recollections are quite similar to my grandfather’s recollections. I chose Mr. Allen because he was from Mississippi like my grandfather. Reading Mr. Allen’s accounts of situations, just confirmed what my grandfather had always told me especially about all of the biracial children that existed who were the children of the slave owners or the slave owner’s friends.
In summary, I was not aware of quite a few things about slavery. Bibb’s account of how some slaves were superstitious match what I learned from my grandfather as well as other testimonies from other slaves. At my age, I truly thought that I had read all of the books, articles and watch every movie, as well as countless documentaries. Bibb’s account of slaves being encouraged with whisky to fight, have races or chicken fights also were depicted in movies like Roots. I was a little taken back by the slave accounts of stating “we had crops” as if they were a part of the family or family business of farming. My grandfather never expressed that to me. Slave owners were all bad in my opinion as one should not own another human being but some slave did not feel that way. Bibb spoke of how the rich owned slaves and the lynchings that the slave would have to endure if they ran away. Bibb’s knew about being a runaway slave because he was one several times. There were slaves that chose to stay on plantations. In fact, I did learn from Bibb’s book that some slaves were so conditioned that even when they were freed, they chose to stay on the plantation farms which was more verification of what I was taught in secondary school. I also noticed that some of the slaves never forgot the horrific events that occurred whether it happened to them, their family or another family.