The Antebellum South | Boundless US History
From a literary standpoint, the autobiographical narratives of former slaves comprise one of the most extensive and influential traditions in African American literature and culture. Until the Depression era slave narratives outnumbered novels written by African Americans. Some of the classic texts of American literature, including the two most influential nineteenth-century American novels, Harriet Beecher Stowe's (1852) and 's (1884), and such prize-winning contemporary novels as William Styron's (1967), and Toni Morrison's (1987), bear the direct influence of the slave narrative. Some of the most important revisionist scholarship in the historical study of American slavery in the last forty years has marshaled the slave narratives as key testimony. Slave narratives and their fictional descendants have played a major role in national debates about slavery, freedom, and American identity that have challenged the conscience and the historical consciousness of the United States ever since its founding.
Conditions of Antebellum Slavery
Free blacks in the antebellum period--those years from the formation of the Union until the Civil War--were quite outspoken about the injustice of slavery. Their ability to express themselves, however, was determined by whether they lived in the Northor the South. Free Southern blacks continued to live under the shadow of slavery, unable to travel or assemble as freely as those in the North. It was also more difficult for them to organize and sustain churches, schools, or fraternal orders such as theMasons.
In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, slave narratives were an important means of opening a dialogue between blacks and whites about slavery and freedom. The most influential slave narratives of the antebellum era were designed to enlighten white readers about both the realities of slavery as an institution and the humanity of black people as individuals deserving of full human rights. Although often dismissed as mere antislavery propaganda, the widespread consumption of slave narratives in the nineteenth-century U.S. and Great Britain and their continuing prominence in literature and historical curricula in American universities today testify to the power of these texts, then and now, to provoke reflection and debate among their readers, particularly on questions of race, social justice, and the meaning of freedom.
History of the Southern United States - Wikipedia
Narratives by fugitive slaves before the Civil War and by former slaves in the postbellum era are essential to the study of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American history and literature, especially as they relate to the eleven states of the Old Confederacy, an area that included approximately one third of the population of the United States at the time when slave narratives were most widely read. As historical sources, slave narratives document slave life primarily in the American South from the invaluable perspective of first-hand experience. Increasingly in the 1840s and 1850s they reveal the struggles of people of color in the North, as fugitives from the South recorded the disparities between America's ideal of freedom and the reality of racism in the so-called "free states." After the Civil War, former slaves continued to record their experiences under slavery, partly to ensure that the newly-united nation did not forget what had threatened its existence, and partly to affirm the dedication of the ex-slave population to social and economic progress.