Saturday, July 30, 2011

"North Carolina Slave Narratives" Edited by William L. Andrews

Imagine being required to carry a letter with you, signed by 5 men, as a means of introduction to a new city. Nothing strange about that. Now imagine that the letter states that you are "distinguished among your caste." Of course this implies that your "caste" is inferior, and that you being "distinguished" is some sort of accident. It pretty much says, "Hey, he's black, but he's a good 'un." Take a moment and try to imagine how that would feel.

Now imagine having to buy your family from people who "own" them. The price is $3,000 dollars. Where does a slave get the money to undertake something of that magnitude? How can this ever be accomplished? These were the questions with which Lunsford Lane found himself facing in the 1830's as a slave in North Carolina. That he was able to gain his "manumission" and go on to work freely in a segregated state, eventually buying his family and moving them to freedom, is no less than a miracle. Confounded on one side by the law, and on the other side by the unscrupulous men who deal in the slave trade, make it even more so.

Lunsford Lane's story is one of 4 which make up this remarkable book, set here in North Carolina, where tobacco was once king. The 4 different narratives highlight the differences in treatment, even in one state, that slaves were subjected to prior to the Civil War. There were cruel and harsh masters, as well as more benevolent ones, who allowed their slaves to learn to read and write. Imagine considering someone to be benevolent simply because they allow you to do so! It boggles the mind and sets the senses reeling.

This is a wonderful book, edited with forwords to each of the narratives by William L. Andrews. In exploring the journals of these 4 men; and I call them men, not slaves; Mr. Andrews has set before the reader a blatant account of the barbarism and sheer inhumanity of the slave trade as it was practiced here in North Carolina. It's extraordinary to note that in the words of Lunsford Lane, Moses Roper, Moses Gandy and Thomas Jones, their biggest fear was of being sold further "down South", where conditions were even worse than what these 4 men endured in their native state.

The book is well presented and offers the reader another perspective on a portion of our nation's history. As such, it sheds new light where darkness once prevailed.

No comments:

Post a Comment