BOOK: Camp on Everyday Resistance in the U.S. South


Stephanie M. H. Camp. Closer to Freedom: Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2004.

From UNC Press:

Recent scholarship on slavery has explored the lives of enslaved people beyond the watchful eye of their masters. Building on this work and the study of space, social relations, gender, and power in the Old South, Stephanie Camp examines the everyday containment and movement of enslaved men and, especially, enslaved women. In her investigation of the movement of bodies, objects, and information, Camp extends our recognition of slave resistance into new arenas and reveals an important and hidden culture of opposition.Camp discusses the multiple dimensions to acts of resistance that might otherwise appear to be little more than fits of temper. She brings new depth to our understanding of the lives of enslaved women, whose bodies and homes were inevitably political arenas. Through Camp’s insight, truancy becomes an act of pursuing personal privacy. Illegal parties (“frolics”) become an expression of bodily freedom. And bondwomen who acquired printed abolitionist materials and posted them on the walls of their slave cabins (even if they could not read them) become the subtle agitators who inspire more overt acts.

The culture of opposition created by enslaved women’s acts of everyday resistance helped foment and sustain the more visible resistance of men in their individual acts of running away and in the collective action of slave revolts. Ultimately, Camp argues, the Civil War years saw revolutionary change that had been in the making for decades.

In 2004, NPR posted an excerpt:

Formerly enslaved people compared bondage to another form of confinement: “I was a slave,” Henry Bibb wrote in his autobiography, “a prisoner for life.” Fountain Hughes agreed, saying of enslavement that it was a “jail sentence, was jus’ the same as we was in jail.” Antebellum principles of restraint rested on a legal bedrock laid in the colonial and early national periods. Between the seventeenth and the early nineteenth centuries, as colonists and settlers seized and organized land that would become states, elites passed laws to govern the people who populated these new societies. Slaveholders everywhere in the slave South shared a common interest in constricting black mobility; intraregional differences of crop, demographics, and culture modulated but did not fundamentally alter this investment. Virginia was the first colony to pass laws governing bondpeople’s behavior…”

Read the rest of the excerpt here.

Featured Image Credit: “The Sabbath Among Slaves.” Henry Bibb, Narrative of the life and adventures of Henry Bibb, an American slave (New York, 1849), facing p. 23. ( Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-107750) as shown on, compiled by Jerome Handler and Michael Tuite, and sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library. (Click for details)

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