Example Of Research Paper On African American Women-Slavery

Type of paper: Research Paper

Topic: Slavery, Women, Family, United States, America, Slave, Children, African American

Pages: 7

Words: 1925

Published: 2020/10/13


The American society from the nineteenth century offers a good example of how bondage, oppression and capitalism shaped and redefined the lives of black Americans. There is no shortage of accounts of how blacks were enslaved and how African American women operated in the slave society. These women were seen as laborers, concubines, and breeders, and motherhood offered a distinctive position for the black women (Littlefield).
The majority of the related to Women and Slavery in America come from the nineteenth century, and these documents reveal as to how slavery affected the daily lives of African American women. Slavery was a system that had a direct impact on women across race, religion, class and region in America. These documents tell stories of exploitation and the clearly gendered nature of slavery in America (Lewis & Lewis).

The Plight of African American women

African American men and women were forced to work as slaves and were denied the most basic human rights. They were subjected to mental and physical degradation and treated as objects, and forced to perform demanding labor tasks. Despite common factors, black women and black men endured different circumstances of enslavement. The males were considered to be more valuable workers because they carried more strength. They were given more skilled tasks like carpentry and blacksmithing, and the field jobs were left for the females. Thus, there were a higher number of female slaves taking care of the agricultural work (Hallam).
The physical, as well as psychological burdens for the African American women, were enormous. She had to place the needs of the master and his family before her own. Her children were often raised by others, and she had to take care of her mothering responsibilities on top of her normal duties as slaves. The male counterparts often left them to escape the bondage, but the black women slaves stayed behind in the bondage for the love of their children. At times, these female slaves were forced into sexual relationships (Hallam).
There are countless stories of how these slave women experienced sexual exploitation and chronic hunger from white males. Their growing black children lived in constant fear of those auctions when they would be sold and taken away from their families. The African American women lamented that their children had to use their masters’ surnames.Conflicting roles and motherhood
African American women were fulfilling different, and conflicting roles and motherhood became the center of black women’s existence. One can see the complexities of their identity in the autobiographies, speeches, and other writings published on black women and in their autobiographies. As the American society moved from the family-based social system to a market-based one, it also changed the position and place of women in the social system. Before industrialization, women were respected inside and outside of the home. However, with the coming of industrialization, their role as homemaker was looked upon to be inferior. Thus, it was no surprise to see their position in society getting diminished due to the fast changing societal attitudes (Littlefield).
As for the African American women, they were in peculiar positions as they were placed in a peculiar category as slaves and were seen as inferior to the society. Motherhood for black women was not the same that was experienced by the white women, and they were looked upon as slaves and the mistress. Motherhood for the slave women was connected with the social system of bondage, and they were not considered to be a true or complete women. The experience of womanhood and motherhood for the black women established the societal inferiority of them.
The definitions of motherhood and womanhood were different for the white women and other for the black women. While the white women identified motherhood with social status, motherhood for slave women was connected to bondage, slavery and mistress. Black women had to accept forced motherhood for their existence and survival. There are many interviews that narrate how those black women who refused to such commands, were beaten naked till blood ran from their bodies (Littlefield).
Motherhood was seen as a survival for black women, who cared for their children despite the multiple tasks they had to perform as slaves. Despite the unforgiving reality of slavery, the slave women were very protective of their children. There was a powerful connection between mother and child, and the black women did everything they could to prevent their masters from selling her children. There is much debate on the black family life during the era of slavery and where children largely grew up in mother-only households.
The enslaved women When looking at the Atlantic slave trade, it is seen that the slave women were outnumbered by men. This was because European slave traders preferred to buy men as they could be sold for more in the Americas. However, records found on most plantations show equal numbers of men and women. All slaves suffered from very poor health, and it was found that men were more susceptible to death and disease as camped to women. The slaveholders, initially showed little interest in women. They still preferred to buy new slaves from Africa rather than face the costs of raising children born to enslaved women. Pregnant women slaves or those with children had to struggle to meet their responsibilities at plantation managers and take care of their young children. This gave rise to conflicts on the plantations on which they worked (Paton).
The "American" English colonists were ruled by the English Laws, which did not stop the exploitation of black female servants by their male masters. Before the Africans arrived, the peoples were divided based on intra-European ethnic divisions. Although the Africans were not considered to be slaves, they did not have any legal protections that were enjoyed by the whites. Thus, the blacks were left unprotected against any kind of abuse, and were prohibited by law to defend themselves. Any slave who tried to defend had to face cruel beatings by his or her master. Female slaves were looked upon as sexual objects (Frankel).
Under those conditions, it is not surprising to learn that enslaved women had a small number of children, and many of those children died young due to lack of care. There were miscarriages, abortions, and most of the children died before they approached the age of seven. The pregnancy, birth and motherhood in the African American women, was of pain and grief. One of the hidden traumas of slavery was the loss of children every other day. The reasons for the high percentage of miscarriages are very much debated, but it evident that the strenuous physical exertion at fields and inadequate nutrition must have played the major roles. The enslaved women had to work long hours doing hard manual labor in the fields, growing commercial crops (Paton).

Shortcomings and flaws in researches

There are, however, different stories related to the slaves of the Mountain South, a region that was characterized by a lower density of the black population. The reports from here contradict sharply to the prevailing pattern related to slavery. It is said that the slaves were given shelter and adequately fed and clothed. Why such optimistic conclusions are being made on slavery is puzzling and could be attributed to several reasons. First of all, there are fundamental weaknesses in the slavery studies that suffer from a defective view of the slave family, limited analysis on enslavement, exaggeration of slavery and scholarly neglect (Dunaway).
U.S. slavery studies are of the view that households of households were organized, and it was irrational for the masters to break up black families. The single-residence households of slave families were stable and organized, and the majority of them lived in two-parent households. These studies reflect that U.S. slave owners did not interfere with the continuation of black families, as this would have gone against their economic interests. The scholars agree on sexual exploitation, but disagree that it happened very often. In addition, motherhood and fertility were discouraged in the African American women who were needed more out in the fields to a greater extent as compared to their male counterparts (Dunaway).
Scholars of U.S. slavery admit to a fundamental blunder made in neglecting the domestic arrangements in the small slave-holdings. There are little information about the communities of slaves living in towns and cities and take account of the slave experiences. It is true that about 90 % of U.S. slaves lived in locations and farms that had fewer than 50 slaves. The stability of the slave family varied with the size of the slaveholding and the most brutal exploitations have been seen in those societies with smallholdings. The sexual exploitation, slave trading, and family separations, were more prevalent in societies where the numbers of slaves were smaller as compared to others (Dunaway).
Between 1790 and 1860, there was a high demand for cotton in the world and the slave population nearly quadrupled as the African-Americans enslaved in the Upper South were forced to journey to the cotton economy. The forced labor migration of slaves should be taken into account when looking at slave family stability (Dunaway).

Slave marriages

One finds rich records on African American women from the nineteenth-century, and these sources offer valuable information regarding the changes and continuities from slavery to freedom for these women and their families. Historians rely on federal collections as there are very few primary sources such as diaries and letters left by the enslaved African American women. The record show that during the Civil War, more than 100,000 African American men served in the United States Army and majority of them had been slaves. The enslaved women found it difficult to get pensions as slave marriages did not fall under contractual agreement and were not considered legal. However, the United States Congress was aware of such marriages when the slave couples raised families together. There were authorized guidelines made for the slave wives to get their pensions. However, the African American widow had to supply proof that she and her husband were married by some ceremony. Pension officials often had to rely on oral testimony of such marriages because of the lack of marriage licenses (Frankel).


The African American women struggled for freedom in society that considered them nothing more than slaves. In the middle of those harsh realities and conflicting roles, black womanhood was looking for new meaning and stability. They negotiated motherhood in order to survive and care for their children. Their lives transitioned through survival, protesting revolutions and finally freedom so as to reject the American domination system and get free from the idea of the inferiority (Littlefield).
Slavery was condemned for very different reasons. The White abolitionists wanted an end to the slavery because African slaves were having an adverse impact on White servants. Foreign Slave Trade Bill was proposed in 1807 to bring an end to the African humans trafficking, as it was against the principles of humanity. The pressure of abolitionists along with several other factors like continued slave rebellions and drop in profits slowed down the slave trade. Although the institution of slavery was over in England, it still persisted in the United States. The African human beings were left to their fate, and their plight was accepted as natural. The reality of female slaves and their lives of sexual debasement and cruelty was ignored (Marshall).
However, the African American women were loving, caring and responsible like any other woman. They placed the safety of their children before their safety and freedom. It was their experience and knowledge as caregivers that helped them to take their motherhood seriously. The enslaved men were able to preserve their identity and individual humanity by escaping, but the slave woman was left behind, shouldering the burden of womanhood and the dependent children.


Corrigan, Mary Beth. "Reviews: "the African-American Family in Slavery and Emancipation," by Wilma A. Dunaway." Journal of American Ethnic History 24.1 (2004): 128-30.
Dunaway, Wilma A. "the African-American Family in Slavery and Emancipation," Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data, Cambridge University Press, (2003). Print
Frankel, Noralee. "From Slave Women to Free Women: The National Archives and Black Women's History in the Civil War Era." Federal Records and African American History 29.2 (2012). Print.
Hallam, Jennifer. "Historical Overview." Pbs.org. Slaveryand the Making of America, 2004. Web. <http://www.pbs.org/wnet/slavery/experience/gender/history.html>.
Lewis, Catherine M., and Lewis Richard J., "Stegman on Lewis and Lewis, 'Women and Slavery in America: A Documentary History'" Southern Association for Women Historian 1.1 (2012). Print.
Littlefield, Marci Bounds. "Black Women, Mothering, and Protest in 19th Century American Society." Journal of Pan African Studies 2.1 (2007): 53-61.
Marshall, Gloria J. Browne-. "Failing Our Black Children: Statutory Rape Laws, Moral Reform and the Hypocrisy of Denial." Http://academic.udayton.edu/. University of Dayton, 2001. Web. <http://academic.udayton.edu/race/05intersection/gender/rape.htm>.
Paton, Diana. "Enslaved Women and Slavery before and after 1807." History.ac.uk. Newcastle University, 2007. Web. <http://www.history.ac.uk/ihr/Focus/Slavery/articles/paton.html>.

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