BOOK: Stevenson on Slave Family & Community in the U.S. South


African Diaspora, Ph.D. is revisiting scholarship that has shaped the study of people of African descent across time and place.

Brenda E. Stevenson. Life in Black and White : Family and Community in the Slave South: Family and Community in the Slave South. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

From Oxford University Press:

Life in Black and White provides a panoramic portrait of family and community life in the American South–weaving the fascinating personal stories of planters and slaves, of free blacks and poor-to-middling whites, into a powerful portrait of southern society from the mid-eighteenth century to the Civil War. Loudoun County, Virginia and the surrounding vicinity are the focus. Here the region’s most illustrious families helped forge southern traditions and attitudes that became characteristic of the entire region while mingling with yeoman farmers of German, Scotch-Irish, and Irish descent, and free black families who lived alongside abolitionist Quakers and thousands of slaves. Stevenson brilliantly recounts their stories as she builds the complex picture of their intertwined lives, revealing how their combined histories guaranteed Loudon’s role in important state, regional, and national events and controversies.

In exploring the central role of the family, Brenda Stevenson offers a wealth of insight. But most important, the author breaks new ground in her depiction of slave family life. Following the lead of historian Herbert Gutman, most scholars have accepted the idea that, like whites, slaves embraced the nuclear family, both as a living reality and an ideal. Stevenson destroys this notion, showing that the harsh realities of slavery allowed little possibility of a such a domestic arrangement. Far more important were extended kin networks and female-headed households.

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