Slave Families and Communities
Directions: Read the following passage and complete the questions from section 20.8
Slavery made community and family life difficult. Legally, slave families did not exist. No Southern state recognized slave marriages. Legal control of slave children rested not with their parents, but with their masters. Owners could break up slave families at any time by selling a father, a mother, or a child to someone else. Of all the things they endured, slaves most feared being sold away from their loved ones.
Most slaves grew up in families headed by a father and mother.Unable to marry legally, slaves created their own weddings, which often involved the tradition of jumping over a broomstick. One slave recalled,
The preacher would say to the man, “Do you take this woman to
be your wife?” He says, “Yes.” “Well, jump the broom.” After he
jumped, the preacher would say the same to the woman. When
she jumped, the preacher said, “I pronounce you man and wife.”
Caring for children was never easy. Booker T. Washington’s mother “snatched a few moments for our care in the early morning before her work began, and at night after the day’s work was done.” Still, parents found time to teach the lessons children would need to survive.
Silence around whites was one such lesson. Elijah Marrs recalled that “Mothers were necessarily compelled to be severe on their children to keep them from talking too much.” Obedience was another lesson. William Webb’s mother taught him “not to rebel against the men that were treating me like some dumb brute, making me work and refusing to let me learn.”
Parents also taught their children other essential lessons about caring, kindness, pride, and hope. They taught them to respect themselves and other members of the slave community, especially older slaves. “There is not to be found, among any people,” wrote Douglass, “a more rigid enforcement of the law of respect to elders.”
These were the lessons that helped slaves, under the most difficult conditions, to create loving families and close communities. In doing so, they met the most basic of human needs—the need for a place to feel loved, respected, and safe.
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