Lerone Bennett’s description of the three axial forces of African American life that enabled the community to survive slavery
One constant source of hope for the enslaved African Americans is the prospect of a blissful afterlife that the Christian doctrine offered. While the first generation of black slaves in America brought with them their native religious beliefs and practices, they were soon replaced by Christianity. The white slave owners instilled in their slaves the virtues and values given in the Holy Bible. When subject to hard physical labor, confinement in their dingy housing quarters and humiliated by their masters, the slaves would console themselves by reiterating the Christian notion of salvation and the hope of a favorable after-life. There was also considerable solidarity within the slave community, which helped them overcome alienation and feelings of loneliness to a degree. For example, slaves would distinguish between ‘stealing’ and ‘taking’. While they considered it fair to ‘taking’ food and clothing from their white masters, the forbade ‘stealing’ the same from another fellow slave. These kinds of small moral codes added up to give them a sense of dignity even in such hostile conditions.
One can find parallels between the perennial conflict between the slaves and their masters and the central plot of Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed. In the novel, the confrontation between Doro and Anyanwu can be read as an allegory to the struggle of the slaves. Hinting that Anyanwu’s character is one of the underdog, the author attributes great powers of patience and perseverance to the former, which are qualities that the slaves also showed. In a very broad way, the author is hinting at the universality of challenges confronted by human beings. This is a valid point, for what gives value to a novel is its transcendent quality beyond the here and now. In other words, although the novel is science fiction, it embodies in it enduring literary qualities that can appeal to generations of readers in the future. The novel also finds a resonance with the struggles underwent by black Americans in their path to emancipation.
Lerone Bennet, “Behind the Cotton Curtain”, Chapter 4, Before the Mayflower.
The American Civil War the period following it was critical in the nation’s history and it has deeply influenced subsequent social and political developments. The Civil War would have its most important effect on the lives of millions of African American slaves, as a large proportion of them would be decreed ‘free’ toward the end of the war. Despite historical injustices suffered by them, black Americans exhibited bravery in the battle grounds as they joined forces with fellow Unionists and staked their lives for the promise of emancipation. Having achieved their freedom from their white masters, African Americans would celebrate their newly won liberties and rights in the years following the war – also referred by historians as the period of Reconstruction. In the book America: A Concise History by James Henretta and David Bordy, we get in-depth analysis and commentary on this crucial period in American history.
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