For this project on how students learn about slavery in American schools, The Washington Post asked noted historians to write an essay on aspects of slavery that are misunderstood, poorly taught or not covered at all in the nation’s classrooms.
From the cruel separation of families to the resistance by enslaved people and the widespread enslavement of Native Americans, these contributions address gaps in our common knowledge about what the practice of slavery has meant for America.
Highlighting resistance also renders African Americans’ humanity plain to see.
African Americans fought back because they refused to accept their lot in life.
Along the way, he intended to recruit fellow enslaved people and was willing to kill anyone who dared to stop them.
And to invoke the spirit of the American Revolution, as well as to call out the hypocrisy of American revolutionaries who refused to abolish slavery, he planned to carry a banner that read “Death or Liberty.” But Gabriel’s bold bid to secure his freedom and spark a rebellion that would spread throughout the slaveholding South ended before it could really begin.It is not enough either simply to mention one or two enslaved people who escaped to freedom.This has the same effect as narrowly focusing on rebellion.“I have adventured my life in endeavoring to obtain the liberty of my countrymen, and am a willing sacrifice in their cause.” Rebellion, though, was not the only way that enslaved African Americans fought back.Their resistance took many forms, from highly visible attempts to flee bondage, to nearly imperceptible acts of sabotage and subterfuge.Enslaved people formed families whenever possible, marrying, bearing children and keeping those children with them as long as possible.They also held onto African cultural traditions, such as religious worship practices, which remain visible today among their descendants.In 1831, a slave rebellion was led by Nat Turner in Southampton County, Va.During the insurrection, several people were killed at the site of the Whitehead house, the remnants of which are seen here. (Matt Mc Clain/The Washington Post) In teaching the history of American slavery accurately, it is essential to teach about African Americans’ resistance to slavery.But because insurrections were so rare, when they are taught in isolation, students are left with the impression that the vast majority of enslaved people who did not rebel accepted their bondage.Some even interpret this to mean that African Americans were complicit in their own enslavement.