Nell Irvin Painter on Anti-Black Terrorism

As in most employer-employee relations, particularly in agricultural settings, slavery had included an enormous increment of deference. Slaves were expected to be humble before masters, and masters punished any evidence of autonomy or independence on the slave’s part as “impudence”. Examples of impudence stud the record of slavery, but emancipation saw thousands of freedpeople throw off slavery’s mask. Abruptly discarding the pose of deference, cooks turned on their heels and refused to serve their masters; serving girls cursed their young mistresses; workers in the fields stopped their labor until their former owners agreed to pay them a wage; drivers on absentee-owned plantations threatened the returning owners at gunpoint; and prophets proclaimed the arrival of the New Jerusalem. In these ways, the first acts of emancipation were psychological and face-to-face. They did not go unchallenged.

The response was a wave of anti-Black violence that merged into the anarchy that followed the end of the war. Marauding Confederate soldiers, called “disserters” by Southerners, stole pigs, burned barns, ran off horses, and shot Blacks in the roads. Sources make it difficult to draw any conclusions about the race of these perpetrators of the arson and the thievery that followed the surrender. During this turbulent time, a lack of law enforcement, anger at the Confederate loss (blamed on Blacks), hunger, and want, – all combined to produce a tide of disorder whose salient was anti-Black terrorism.

  • P. IX, Exodusters – Nell Irvin Painter, ISBN 0-393-00951-3

Nell Irvin Painter

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