Guest Blogger: Idalina Pina, AFR 329: Women & Slavery in the Black Atlantic – Course Collaboration

After multiple class sessions introducing our archival and manuscript collections and oral history best practices, students in Dr. Nneka Dennie’s Spring 2019 AFR 329: Women & Slavery in the Black Atlantic course produced a documentary using oral histories created throughout the semester. These materials will be donated to the Archives.

In addition to this main project, students were tasked with identifying primary sources from local archives, historic sites, and/or repositories that shed light on the lived experiences of enslaved women or women enslavers. The following series of blog posts are authored by these students upon the completion of this archival research process and serve as reflective pieces.

Thank you for your submissions-and a wonderful semester of fruitful collaborations!

“Primary Source Analysis: The Choices of Freedom”

written by Idalina Pina

In the two cases presented before the General Assembly Session in Martin County in 1861, two freed-women sought to bind themselves to slavery. In the first case, the petitioner, Eliza Hassell, is described as a free-woman of color, who requested to acquiesce her freedom to Shepard R. Spruill, a character she describes as a “kind master.” Hassell, as explained by the Court, claims that her conditions under the entitlement of Spruill would change for the better. The petition does not further clarify her previous conditions but does insinuate that a life of slavery would be a better option for Hassell. Similarly, in the second petition introduced to the court the same year, Kissah Trueblood, described also as a freed woman of color, makes the same plea. Her petition follows a similar sentiment as the previous one: Trueblood sought to bind herself to Dr. Ritter to better her circumstances. The script of this petition, however, reveals more about Trueblood and her reasonings, describing her previous life under the “apprenticeship” of other owners as exceeding her current state of “destitute” as a free woman.

Screenshot of the North Carolina Digital Collections page showing the General Assembly Session Records: Eliza Hassell Petition, Jan. 22, 1861.
General Assembly Session Records: Eliza Hassell Petition, Jan. 22, 1861. The document can be viewed on the North Carolina Digital Collections website, shown above.

Both of these cases reveal a couple of interest characteristics of slavery in the mid-19th century. On the one hand, free woman consciously made the choice to bind themselves to perpetual servitude, some under the impression that a slavery would be a better outcome. This rationalization, unfortunately, was not rash; in the South, particularly in North Carolina as seen with these two cases, living conditions for free people of color were not reliable. This quality of life made freed people vulnerable to circumstances such as presented in the cases above. Both Hassell and Trueblood are described as free woman of “color,” a particular characterization by the Court that reveals more about the particular situation of these two women. Although the petition includes that Trueblood was born a free person, it does not mention Hassell’s previous position.

Their “position” in a slave society as freed women is pertinent in understanding some of these cases. As analyzed by numerous authors throughout this course, freed women held different positions in social structures which allowed some form of mobility. Both of these women were at some point free, but because freedom could not provide a means of living for them, slavery became the better choice. This “choice of freedom” is not accessible for others.

The description these women utilize for these men can expose more of the underlying conditions that lead them to make this choice; however, these women could also be using this language to further their agency, which in this case, is binding themselves to slavery because it betters their living situation. In both of these case, the women are presented to have chosen a life of slavery instead of freedom. However, their voices are not heard through the paper, but rather the intentions of the writer are what one can extrapolate from this petition; therefore, making it difficult to deduce their motives.

Works Cited:

General Assembly Session Records: Eliza Hassell Petition, Jan. 22, 1861. http://digital.ncdcr.gov/cdm/compoundobject/collection/p15012coll8/id/2218/rec/19 .

General Assembly Session Records: Kissah Trueblood Petition, Jan. 3, 1861. http://digital.ncdcr.gov/cdm/compoundobject/collection/p15012coll8/id/2215/rec/20.

http://digital.ncdcr.gov/cdm/compoundobject/collection/p15012coll8/id/2215/rec/20

Guest Blogger: Gabrielle Thomas, AFR 329: Women & Slavery in the Black Atlantic – Course Collaboration

After multiple class sessions introducing our archival and manuscript collections and oral history best practices, students in Dr. Nneka Dennie’s Spring 2019 AFR 329: Women & Slavery in the Black Atlantic course produced a documentary using oral histories created throughout the semester. These materials will be donated to the Archives.

In addition to this main project, students were tasked with identifying primary sources from local archives, historic sites, and/or repositories that shed light on the lived experiences of enslaved women or women enslavers. The following series of blog posts are authored by these students upon the completion of this archival research process and serve as reflective pieces.

Thank you for your submissions-and a wonderful semester of fruitful collaborations!

“Dialectics in the Archive”

written by Gabrielle Thomas

Hegel’s slave/master dialectic deals with two individuals, the slave and the master, that mutually recognize and define each other in status and in being. More so, these groups represent opposing sides of inequality and extremes. This dialectic is present in slavery and has been applied to slave narratives such as Fredrick Douglas. For example, Marissa Fuentes, in Dispossessed Lives, points us towards the dialectic of racialized gender or the “Mistress/Slave Dialectic.” However, other dialectics also functioned during slavery. Hilary Beckles introduces the dialectic relationship between white prosperity and black purgatory within the slave society or white prosperity/black purgatory dialectic in his work The First Black Slave Society.

These dialectics were hardened and institutionalized through slave codes and laws throughout the Caribbean and the United States. In the archival collection, “Documenting the American South,” in the University of North Carolina library, I found one distinct sources that showcase two dialectics: the master/slave dialectic and the white prosperity/black purgatory dialectic.

The first source is a government document from 1831 entitled, “Slaves and Free Persons of Color. An Act Concerning Slaves and Free Persons of Color,” and demonstrates ways in which the slave/master dialectic stayed in place. North Carolina’s use of slaves and its participation in the slave trade has been well documented. In 1715, the first laws for used to control slaves were made. North Carolina, at the time, worked as a slave society. This meant that their socioeconomic formation was entirely dependent on slavery for all its operations, dominant ideology, defining functions, and sustainability. These laws were an instrument to maintain the slave society. This particular document laid out laws that controlled every aspect of the free and enslaved black persons.

Screenshot of the "Documenting the American South" landing page for "North Carolina Slaves and Free Persons of Color. An Act Concerning Slaves and Free Persons of Color."
Landing page for the referenced document, “North Carolina Slaves and Free Persons of Color. An Act Concerning Slaves and Free Persons of Color,” created by the North Carolina General Assembly in 1831. The item can be found through “Documenting the American South,” based out of UNC Chapel Hill.

For example, it controlled their labour, freedom, reproduction, and worth. All laws were meant to ensure that the master/slave dialectic was in place. Freed black persons were not allowed to migrate to North Carolina and if they were in North Carolina, they could not leave for more than ninety days. If a freed person broke any laws or codes of conduct they were subject to return to enslavement. Another law remained that if an enslaver wanted to free a person they enslaved, they would have to file a request to the court, give public notice of their intentions, and pay a bond. Any enslaved person found guilty of insurrection or conspiracy “shall be adjudged guilty of a felony and shall suffer death without benefit of clergy (p.5).” Any runaway enslaved persons caught would be hired out from the jails for the state’s profit. Runaways would also be “confined in any jail for the space of twelve months, (pg. 3) otherwise.

The act also uses this as a way to deal with hiring illegally imported slaves. It also enumerated the reward system for slave catchers. The master was the white population and the slave was the black population. This remained true regardless of whether the black person was enslaved or free. Laws are one tool used to maintain this dialectic.

The second source is a newspaper article titled, “More Slavery at the South,” published in the Independent’s 74th issue January 25th, 1912 by an anonymous African American nurse. This source shows the white prosperity/black purgatory dialectic. This source was actually written by a reporter for The Independent. However, the piece is a transcribed interview with an anonymous African American woman. This nurse describes the sexual harassment that most African American nurses and house workers are forced to endure from male employers. She also speaks on the sexual bribery and coercion that occurred.

Snapshot of the landing page A Negro Nurse More Slavery at the South. Source: Documenting the American South, UNC Chapel Hill.
Landing page for A Negro Nurse More Slavery at the South. Source: Documenting the American South, UNC Chapel Hill.

For example, this source sheds light on how women were promised more and nicer clothes for sexual acts. Even though this article is written after emancipation it shows the afterlife or continuation of this dialectic into 1900s’.  The anonymous African American woman complains that she has suckled numerous white women’s children but has never gotten the respect of being called “Ms.” She complains of being looked at as a sex object for white men. She also complains of the dire living, eating, and health situations of the black persons in the South. She further complains of the unfair wages.

Throughout the piece she constantly compares the black living situation to the contrastingly better white living situation in the South. Reading this source illuminates how the theoretical conception of the dialectical relationship, white prosperity/black purgatory, exists in the South around 1900s.  

Works Cited:

North Carolina, Slaves and Free Persons of Color. An Act Concerning Slaves and Free Persons of Color. North Carolina: General Assembly, 1831.
https://docsouth.unc.edu/nc/slavesfree/summary.html

A Negro Nurse, More Slavery at the South. From The Independent, 72 (Jan. 25, 1912): 196-200. New York: Published for the proprietors, 1912.https://docsouth.unc.edu/fpn/negnurse/negnurse.html

Guest Blogger: Cami Herring, AFR 329: Women & Slavery in the Black Atlantic – Course Collaboration

After multiple class sessions introducing our archival and manuscript collections and oral history best practices, students in Dr. Nneka Dennie’s Spring 2019 AFR 329: Women & Slavery in the Black Atlantic course produced a documentary using oral histories created throughout the semester. These materials will be donated to the Archives.

In addition to this main project, students were tasked with identifying primary sources from local archives, historic sites, and/or repositories that shed light on the lived experiences of enslaved women or women enslavers. The following series of blog posts are authored by these students upon the completion of this archival research process and serve as reflective pieces.

Thank you for your submissions-and a wonderful semester of fruitful collaborations!

“Primary Source Analysis”

written by Cami Herring

Being able to tie the horrific nature of American slavery to today’s manifestation of mass incarceration is no hard task. It is well known that slavery did not end, it just transformed. It is for this reason we see more of our black and brown men and women being thrown into jail for petty crimes or wrongly charged based off of false accusations. The corrupt criminal justice system manifest itself daily, changing not only the makeup up the prison system, but the individual lives within it as well. The correlation between recidivism (the tendency of a convicted person to reoffend) and the poor treatment of “criminals” post-release is extremely high specifically for black women in the United States according to a Prison Policy Initiative study. In no way, however, do I strive to suggest that these women seek to be behind bars once again, but rather factors that work against formerly incarcerated people (specifically women) such as housing or poor living conditions keep them within this cycle. Freeing people from jail does not negate the possibility of returning.

Screen capture of the Prison Policy Initiative homepage.
The Prison Policy Initiative homepage.

Through my archival research, similar themes arose based off of North Carolina archival source I found. The source is from 1867 from an assumed former slave who contracted an agreement to work for a woman named Margaret Torrance for two years on the Cedar Grove Plantation in North Carolina. In it, you can find information about what sort of provisions, shelter, and “care” she will be given under the new bondage of this woman. She states “I, Vina do solemnly bind myself and my four children […] to do anything that she wants me to do.” In it she also hints that she is primarily doing this for her children so they will have sufficient resources for survival, specifically clothing. Although the contract is only for two years, as we know, bondage would often extend for much longer based off of changing circumstances within the contractual agreement. This could be anything from a minor breach in the agreement to simply being uninformed about exactly what they were agreeing to. Either way, it was entirely dependant on what the white person felt to enforce. This means Vina was likely enslaved past these two years. Regardless, the cycle was never broken as a result of the dependency black people were forced to have on whites due to being subdued physically, emotionally, and intellectually for so many years before abolition. Because of this, we see a woman asking to be enslaved, not because she wanted to subject herself to this, but because it was a means of survival. While this source does not provide much more than a committed statement to live at the calling of her enslaver, the implications of it reach into ideology today. Black people don’t want to be incarcerated, but often times the odds are stacked so far against them, that it becomes the one of the only options.

This is a sentiment that is often considered unfathomable to many modern day white Americans as they often attempt to equate their white “freedom” to black freedom. They think “if black people wanted to be treated with equality they should stay out of prisons.” Trust me, I don’t believe the 46,000 youth incarcerated annually want to be behind bars. But, when surrounding living conditions make it more realistic for you to survive in prison than in your own community, it can happen. There has been a significant difference in equity between black and white people. Because of this, freedom for whites was (and continues to be) drastically different to “freedom” of blacks.  

In the 1800s, mere physical freedom did not equate to the mental and emotional freedom whites always had to become educated or learn social literacy to be successful in a world not confined within the fences of a plantation. Freedom of the body is not enough. Vita’s freedom of her body was not enough. She was not equipped to survive in a world that had been functioning without her public existence for so long, and she had never had to opportunity to learn how to do so. Freedom from bondge does not suddenly mean you can be an equal part of society, there is some major catching up that must be done.

This is something that we take for granted and has skewed the way many people (specifically white) view black people in terms of their mere status to be without bondage in America. Just because the chains come off, whether it is through slavery or incarceration, it is senseless to believe that is where the work can end. Similar to how Reconstruction era programs attempted to incorporate formerly enslaved people into society, significant strides are needed to ameliorate programs for previously convicted people so as to break one part of the cycle of incarceration.

Work Cited

“New Report, Nowhere to Go, breaks down the housing crisis among formerly incarcerated people.” Prison Policy Initiative, August, 2018.

Sawyer, Wendy and Peter Wagner. “Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2019,” Prison Policy Initiative, March, 2019.

“Vina’s Contract” J. Murrey Atkins Library Digital Collections, January, 1867.

Justice, Equality, Community (JEC) Student and Alumni Advisory Council

The Justice, Equality, Community (JEC) grant is a three year, campus-wide initiative to support increased interdisciplinary engagement with issues of race, gender, religion, and social justice within the humanities at Davidson College.

The grant documents state: “A more publicly available and promoted archives will inspire transdisciplinary coursework in the humanities through the use of archival materials, promote avenues for increased original student research in the humanities, and enable Davidson to develop reciprocal relationships with community partners—all in support of increased dialogue around issues of justice, equality, and community in the curriculum and in the community.”

To accomplish these goals, the archival component of this initiative has four main tasks:

· Identify and digitize JEC collections.

· Integrate JEC materials into at least 5 new courses.

· Expand archival collections related to JEC, particularly the oral history collections.

· Lead public programming about JEC materials, both on campus and in the larger community.

Jethro Rumple reminiscing about the college circa 1840

This handwritten reminiscence of life at Davidson College was written in the 1840s by an alumnus, Reverend Jethro Rumple. The document contains a description of the College President’s “body servant,” Esom. This item was digitized with JEC grant funds and can be found on DigitalNC.org.

In order to more effectively engage our audiences and build a stronger collection, we selected a thematic focus for each year. For the academic year 2017 – 2018, we focused on 19th century Davidson. Working with partners like DigitalNC and H.F. Group, we identified and digitized thousands of items related to this theme. These materials are available through Davidson College’s research guides – a centralized platform familiar to our students and faculty, while also being accessible to the general public.

We have built on these efforts throughout the 2018 – 2019 academic year by highlighting and expanding our records related to alumni and student activism through support for course-based oral history projects, the on-going digitization of our existing oral history collections, and more targeted student outreach. 

Some of these materials have already been incorporated into a variety of classes, including Introduction to Africana Studies (AFR 101), Environmental History (ENV 256), Slavery and Africa (HIS 366), Native Women (HIS 243), WRI 101, the Humanities Program (HUM 103, 104), US Latinx History (HIS 259), Women and Slavery in the Black Atlantic (AFR 329), and Origins of the American South (HIS 242).

Green Books, Contempo magazine, For 2 Cents Plain, and MLK publications arranged on a table for a Humanities course.

Special collections material pulled for the Fall 2018 Humanities course.

In many of these classes, as well as others, students often express concern that “Davidson is always talking about where we’re going, but rarely talks about where we’ve been.” Students wonder about how their legacy will be represented—and if it will be represented.

Understanding we were uniquely positioned to address this concern, we formed the JEC Student and Alumni Advisory Council—if we were targeting students, we wanted to empower students as full archival partners to recognize their labor for us, as well as in the community.

The JEC Advisory Council, composed of Davidson College students and recent alumni and led by the JEC Project Archivist, was established in the Fall 2018 semester to document and publicize the ways in which students have engaged with and responded to historical and contemporary manifestations of injustice and inequality in Davidson and the surrounding area.

Image of students, townsfolk, and professors interacting with archival materials in the fishbowl as part of the Davidson Disorientation Tour in 2018.
Attendees interacting with archival materials during the debriefing session for the Davidson Disorientation Tour co-led by one of our council members, H.D. (April 2018).

STATEMENT OF PURPOSE

Supported by the archival portion of the JEC Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant, we are working to synthesize information from academic, administrative, and social spheres for a better understanding of campus culture and greater acknowledgment of student work. The ultimate goal of this project is to address gaps between student needs and institutional responses, empower students to better leverage archival resources, and to promote dialogue around increased accountability for supporting student-led projects. 

To accomplish this, we will identify, collect, and digitize the data, records, and oral histories of student organizations and their community partners, both through the acquisition of existing documentation and the recording of information that does not exist in a formal or textual source; following this, we will organize programming according to our findings in order to facilitate meaningful conversations and tangible impacts. 

We are confident that, in addition to meeting our primary goals, this project will also promote a better understanding of the archives as a resource and increase transparency around the processes and accessibility of college documentation, thus creating a foundation for future projects and coalitions.

MEMBERSHIP (2018 – 2019)

Kaitlin Barkley, ’21

Yashita Kandhari, ’20

H.D. Mellin, ’20

Carlos Miranda Pereya, ’18

Arianna Montero-Colbert, ’19

Jonathan Shepard-Smith, ’18

MEMBERSHIP (2019 – 2020)

Jonathan Shepard-Smith, ’18


Marlene Arellano, ’17

Yashita Kandhari, ’22

H.D. Mellin, ’20

Maurice Norman, ’20

Sanzari Aranyak, ’22



The statement of purpose was written and approved by the inaugural members of the JEC Student and Alumni Advisory Council in March 2019. The group has met on a monthly basis since January 2019. If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Jessica Cottle at jecottle@davidson.edu.