Slavery may very well be the most vile and inhumane practice that ever-surfaced mankind. Innocent people of African descent both in America and across the globe felt the detrimental implication of slavery for centuries. While it was nearly impossible to escape captivity at the height of slavery, resistance and rebellions became widespread methods for slaves tired of the torment. Resistance from African and African American Slaves was very present due to the unnatural circumstances and practices of oppression. Through various forms of resistance, both violent and non-violent, slaves illustrated their natural reaction to reject supremacy and contest against a life of bondage. It is important for society to understand the true nature of the term slave resistance. Slave resistance commonly visits notions of violence in armed rebellions. While that was an essential piece of resistance, non-violent acts of fleeing and verbal resistance very well contributed to efforts against enslavement.
The Transatlantic Slave Trade was the prime assertion of African American descent into the new world. This systematic oppression oversaw millions of African men, women, and children stripped of their basic human rights and extradited into the Americas, Europe, and other factions of the globe. As a class we discussed early on the significance of diaspora, which is the displacement of African descendants from their native lands all over the globe. No event in history illustrates this term more vividly than the Transatlantic trades which lasted from the early 1500s until the mid 1800s. Slaves did not openly accept this mistreatment despite the evident basis of supremacy that was present worldwide. In their desires to resist, slaves continuously had to challenge authority in order to carry out basic traditions and communal expression. Through the advancement of historic studies there is evidence of African resistance that dates back all the way to before the discovery of the Americas. Portuguese settlers from 1440-1445 were the first recorded slavers to meet resistance from African groups. Coastal defense units were placed in order to attack settlers and destroy their ships or cargo that was occupying African land, “African captives initiated a multidimensional resistance process that was to unfurl throughout the long period from the fifteenth to the twentieth century.” (Oruno). Systemic oppression had been challenged so early on in the precursor to the slave trade that it must be noted the natural inclination to resist is a part of the African identity. The slave trade did the lay the forefront to societal and economic discrepancies for years to come, but often overshadowed is the fight back that was very present among slaves.
In America we can see the evidence of resistance through practices such as fleeing and even organized rebellions. Due to the harsh environment and circumstances slaves were faced with, nonviolent forms of resistance became extremely prevalent among slaves in the U.S. As a result, the practice of fleeing was used heavily in the south. By the mid nineteenth century the northern states had become a safe haven for many African Americans prior to the civil war and thirteenth amendment. Unfortunately, if slaves were caught or failed to reach the north they were tormented and faced horrible consequences. Slave owners monitored through power, seriously limiting slaves’ accessibility to weapons. Additionally, they intently observed their slaves’ exercises, constraining their development and opportunity of affiliation. Under these conditions, association and arranging were beside incomprehensible. On those uncommon events when the oppressed got away from their masters’ domain, they confronted at this point different components of white control—local armies, nearby watches, and vigilantes. Open hangings and beheading were normal disciplines. Different dissidents were gibbeted alive, consumed alive, or broken on the wheel. In these occurrences, discipline was intended to show the totalizing impacts of racial oppression, threatening the individuals who remained subjugated. While not as popular as fleeing, armed rebellions did exist in the south and in the U.S. From approximately 1700 until the Civil War era nine groups of armed slaves formed resistance groups in an active form of aggression. These groups were very active in southern states such as Louisiana, South Carolina, and southern Virginia. These enslaved activists acquired weapons and tools then ventured to murder slave owners, steal their possessions and burn their lands (Manning). While they quickly were met with a response from White supremacist groups who reacted. Despite their not being too many revolts against the slave owners the activism shown by enslaved rebels embodies the fact that slavery would never be unchallenged no matter the severity of supremacy. Enslaved people would always resist the unnatural practices and refuse to submit to absolutism.
The slave trade marked the initial mistreatment of African Americans on a global level, but the methodology in America transcended the issue of race and made it the forefront of internal horror in this country. By undermining the efforts of African Americans consistently America created its state of segregation that can seems to outlast generations. African Americans expensed all the power they could to override racism, but the efforts we made against them in our country to silence mistreated demographics created the white identity in America. White supremacy had lasted centuries in Europe and through colonization, but it was not as subjective. Being European was the superiority and the internment of any slaves was a common practice. The turning point to black versus white was a method that grew steadily until the civil war and even remains apparent in today’s culture. In response to rebellions and the various types of resistance white America changed the narrative of race through reform and violence because they had the superiority in society to do so. America had increased its African-descent population immensely through slavery and in states such as South Carolina they passed laws to level the population so that whites would not be outnumbered by blacks. It was calculated strategies that exhibited the identity of superiority white people gained, “ ‘When the Negro slave had supplanted the indentured servant upon the plantations of the colony,’ Wertenbaker wrote, ‘a vast change took place in the pride of the middle class. Every white man, no matter how poor he was, no matter how degraded, could now feel a pride in his race.’ ”(Bennett). Blacks were fighting back with all they could but it was not enough. The tide of supremacy had grown along with America’s production and demand of agriculture. The enslaved Americans had ultimately no solution to the structure that dominated the U.S. and with little to no external support they had only the guidance of each other through these horrible times.
Anyone who argues that enslaved groups did not desire their freedom or make an effort to break free is truly lost. It is not that there was not enough effort or not everyone believed in being equal. Simply, the circumstances and disadvantage that these people were faced with was too much to overcome with the means available. It certainly was a struggle that did not see true improvement for centuries but the essential ideology had always been there. The black community did not wake up in 1865 and say hey this is not right. Through their efforts over the course of history the natural reaction to reject inequality was always part of their identity. It took the perseverance of generations in the past to allow give people of color the voice that always should have had. Black power cannot be taken from all Africans and African Americans and I believe that it has been part of their fight since the beginning. It was the mass-initiative to silence and undermine that muzzled people of color from achieving liberties.
The insurgence of segregated groups reveals the strong identity that’s applicable for any man or woman of color and their imitative to fight back. Through different strategies of violent and non-violent protest we can see the natural inclination to oppose racism that survived slavery and lead African Americans to achieve the basic freedoms they never should have lost. The global industry of slavery coupled with the transformation of pre-civil war America reveals the anomalous degradation that was always challenged.
- Lerone Bennett, “The Road not Taken,” The Shaping of Black America. Chicago: Johnson Publishing Co., 1975, pp. 61-82. Originally published in Ebony, vol. 25 (August 1970), pp. 71-77).
- Mvé Bekale, Marc. ‘Memories and Mechanisms of Resistance to the Atlantic Slave Trade: The Ekang Saga in West Central Africa’s Epic Tale the Mvet.’ Journal of African Cultural Studies, 2018, pp. 1-15.
- MANNING, PATRICK. ‘AFRICAN RESISTANCE TO THE ATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE Fighting the Slave Trade: West African Strategies. Edited by SYLVIANE A. DIOUF. Athens OH: Ohio University Press; Oxford: James Currey, 2003. The Journal of African History, vol. 46, no. 3, 2005, pp. 514-515.
- Lara, Oruno D. ‘Resistance and Struggles.’ Diogenes, vol. 45, no. 179, 199