1973.11.01: Slave Revolts (Red Tide)

Red Tide, Vol. 3, No. 1 [Issue #11]
November 1973

Black History Series No. 7
History of An Unfree People
Slave Revolts
[By Michael Letwin]

We concluded the last black history article by stating that the “Uncle Tom” and “Black Sambo” stereotypes that slaveowners and even many historians attribute to the black slave are untrue characterizations designed to justify slavery.


Resistance to slavery was a way of life for most slaves. Unfortunately, these acts normally involved individual acts of slaves, such as self-mutilation to avoid work, acts of arson and destruction of the master’s property and crops, killing the master, feigning sickness, and the highest form: escape.

This does not mean that very few people participated in these activities, but rather that they were not coordinated at the same time.


There were, however, a number of slave revolts in which many people did participate at the same time. Perhaps the most famous of these revolts, which go back as far as slavery in America, is the Denmark Vesey rebellion of 1822 in Charleston.

Although this rebellion was nipped in the bud, it was found that there were a large number of people involved in the planning. This would-be rebellion took place in the city.


Its counterpart on the plantation is exemplified by the Nat Turner rebellion of 1831. In the Turner rebellion, slaves from several plantations in a part of Virginia banded together under the leadership of Turner, a relatively educated slave, and proceeded to take over the county.

By the time hundreds of soldiers and vigilantes were able to defeat the rebellion, about 60 white slave owners and their families had been killed. In this rebellion, slaves made a point of killing only those whites who owned slaves.


Another, more unique, revolt was that which took place on the ship “Amistad” in 1839, where recently captured slaves from Africa were able to mutiny against the crew that was taking them to their final destination of slavery in the Caribbean. This was an attempt to get back to Africa.

All of these rebellions (and space permits these few out of hundreds of incidents to be discussed here) are ample indication that slaves, though not on the whole successfully, did not in fact accept the conditions under which the southern ruling class forced them to live and to work.

But even this fact has been disputed by many apologists for slavery, or just outright racists. They say that these stupid, ignorant slaves were stirred to action by white northern abolitionists (those who fought to end slavery) as if the slaves themselves were not capable of realizing their own oppression and acting against it.


Black slaves did indeed resist slavery in great numbers and in doing this set an example for black people today to resist the living conditions of the ghetto and the working conditions of the factory.



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