What was it like to be enslaved? - African-American Slavery
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What was slavery like?

Slave cabin interior
Inside a slave cabin

October 2016 - When you got to the plantation (a big farm) after the slave auction, someone would tell you which cabin to sleep in. You would share that cabin with a lot of other people.

Picking cotton

During the day you worked in the fields, planting or hoeing or picking cotton, and at night you ate corn mush, sweet potatoes, peanuts, and whatever your owners had left over or didn't want to eat, like turnip greens or pig guts. People learned how to cook these leftovers so they would be good to eat. But most people were hungry and tired all the time.

Slave wedding
A wedding from 1820

After you got married, you lived in a cabin with your husband or wife and your kids. You had to work all day, so an older woman or someone who was disabled would take care of the kids - but often not very well.

Slave scars
Scars from a whipping

One bad thing about being enslaved was that your owner, or the overseer, or any free person, could beat you whenever they wanted to, or torture you, or embarrass you, however they wanted. They didn't have to have a reason.

Another bad thing about being enslaved was that your owner could take your husband or wife or kids away from you any time he or she wanted. Your owner could just decide that you should have a different husband, and that would be that. Or he could decide to sell you, or your wife or your child, to someone who lived far away.

Learn by Doing - Slavery Project
The Civil War
Sharecropping
More about slavery

Bibliography and further reading about American slavery:

Africa and slavery
Black people after the Civil War
American People
American History
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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