Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Challenging Slavery in the Chesapeake -- Author visits Mont Alto

Although this wasn't strictly an Honors event there were several Honors students in attendance, so it's worth mentioning here.

Yesterday, Stephen Whitman spoke to an intimate group at the Mont Alto Library on his book Challenging Slavery in the Chesapeake. The book covers the institution of slavery in Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware from the Revolution to the Civil War.

Whitman asked the question "What did African Americas do to challenge slavery and gain freedom?"

Surprisingly, there was a legal mechanism, called manumission for slaves to buy their freedom. Many worked in their free time to save up enough money to negotiate for their freedom with their masters. This could be a long and tedious process. Yet enough people were able to do this that the States started to limit the procedure.

Whitman argues that the efforts of the slaves helped change how people thought about slavery. Northerners, especially in Pennsylvania, lived with increasing numbers of free blacks. They began to resent the efforts of Southerners to reclaim their lost property. Southerners resented the refusal of the Northerners to help them retain their property. They began to think increasingly in terms of secession from the Union.

Whitman's book challenges us to think about history in a new way. The slaves weren't passive. They worked hard to be free. Actions on the local level had a cumulative effect that changed public opinion against slavery and led eventually to the Civil War. The book is a worthwhile read!

Thanks to the Penn State Mont Alto Library for hosting this book discussion.

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