Bonds of Slavery and Bonds of Love: Investigating the Role of African-American Families and Marital Unions in the Struggle Against Slavery

Slavery—with all its oppression and injustice—appears to be unhelpful in establishing marriage bonds and family structure. In the end, slavery was designed to deprive enslaved individuals of their personal dignity and the emotional connection to their families and partners, which arguably constitutes the very essence of being human.

In other words, slavery prepared serfs for “social death” – a prerequisite for slavery to work effectively and unchallenged. However, family and conjugal partnerships encouraged enduring love and restored dignity among enslaved people, thereby restoring humanity.

The African American family and marriage union provided sanctuary and sanctuary for the enslaved, often akin to Patterson’s concept of “social death” caused by slavery. By “pacifying the soul of chattels,” the existence and cohesion of the family is itself a powerful form of struggle.

Despite such stubborn obstacles, enslaved individuals showed a tendency to continue forming family units. Malone’s comprehensive study of Louisiana households identified a clear trend toward increasingly simple, standardized, core, and complex forms of family structure.

Through such struggles, the revival of dignity and humanity found within and through families remains intact: a powerful legacy of enduring love and connection that lives on through the evidence left by enslaved people.


PIC:, African American intellectual history society (AAIHS), inquiries journal

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