Slavery and Community

Gregory Downs, City College of New York, CUNY
“Power & Slavery: Slave Communities in the Antebellum South”
The Graduate Center, CUNY
December 4, 2008

Historian Gregory Downs explores the capacity for individual and social resistance evident in the American system of slavery. In the antebellum South, American slaves worked to build communities through religion, family, political networks, and communities of shared experience. In attempting to partially redefine slavery on their own terms in these ways, they changed the experience of slavery for themselves and also created problems that would change slavery for their masters.

In Part 1 of this podcast, Downs describes the worldwide history of non-chattel slavery, how and why slavery came to take its particular form in the early American colonies, and its subsequent geographical and demographic expansion into the nineteenth century. In Part 2, beginning at 34:08, he explains how the enslaved used religious practices, family formation, and shared communication across space to assert their humanity and challenge their status as property.