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Slavery

  • They have stabbed themselves for freedom — jumped into the waves for freedom — starved for freedom — fought like very tigers for freedom! But they have been hung, and burned, and shot — and their tyrants have been their historians!

  • It seems as if slavery would be the death of me. If all I suffer on the subject counts as vicarious atonement for the slave-holders, they are in a hopeful way. My indignation rises higher than it used to in my younger days. According to the general rule, I ought to grow calmer, but I do not. If the monster had one head, assuredly I should be a Charlotte Corday.

  • Slavery's crime against humanity did not begin when one people defeated and enslaved its enemies (though of course this was bad enough), but when slavery became an institution in which some men were 'born' free and others slave, when it was forgotten that it was man who had deprived his fellow-men of freedom, and when the sanction for the crime was attributed to nature.

  • The hand of benevolence is everywhere stretched out, searching into abuses, righting wrongs, alleviating distresses, and bringing to the knowledge and sympathies of the world the lowly, the oppressed, and the forgotten.

  • [On Uncle Tom's Cabin:] I no more thought of style or literary excellence than the mother who rushes into the street and cries for help to save her children from a burning house, thinks of the teachings of the rhetorician or the elocutionist.

  • All forms of slavery had their inception in some kind of economic dependence, but the slavery often exists long after the dependent condition has passed away. A thing, once established, once made an institution, is very apt to outlast the economic phase which determined its existence, and become a very troublesome matter. Institutions are crystallized ideas; they stand still: people grow — grow beyond and outside of them. Yet there they remain, unwieldy, mischief-breeding; to get rid of them at all is to tear them out by the roots at great cost of life and suffering. The bonds made ages ago, by economic conditions prevailing at the time, have become sacred; they bear another strength than that which they possessed when first formed. Though no longer with any economical basis for existing, they are even more effective in power than when first established.

  • 'Oh, slavery, slavery,' my Daddy would say. 'It ain't something in a book, Lue. Even the good parts was awful.'

  • Some view our sable race with scornful eye — / 'Their color is a diabolic dye.' / Remember, Christians, Negroes black as Cain / May be refined, and join the angelic train.

    • Phillis Wheatley,
    • "On Being Brought From Africa to America" (1773), Memoir and Poems of Phillis Wheatley ()
  • I wish most sincerely there was not a slave in the province. It always appeared a most iniquitous scheme to me — to fight ourselves for what we are daily robbing and plundering from those who have as good a right to freedom as we have. You know my mind upon this subject.

    • Abigail Adams,
    • 1774, in Frank Shuffelton, ed., The Letters of John and Abigail Adams ()
  • I learned a history not then written in books but one passed from generation to generation on the steps of moonlit porches and beside dying fires in one-room houses, a history of great-grandparents and of slavery and of the days following slavery; of those who lived still not free, yet who would not let their spirits be enslaved.

  • Ah! the curse of slavery, as the common phrase goes, has fallen not merely on the black but perhaps at this moment still more upon the white, because it has warped his sense of truth and has degraded his moral nature. The position and the treatment of the blacks, however, really improve from year to year; while the whites do not seem to advance in enlightenment.

    • Fredrika Bremer,
    • 1850, America of the Fifties: Letters of Fredrika Bremer ()
  • To the Memory of those faithful brown slave-men of the plantations throughout the South, Daddy's contemporaries all, who during the war while their masters were away fighting in a cause opposed to their emancipation, brought their blankets and slept outside their mistresses' doors, thus keeping night-watch over otherwise unprotected women and children — a faithful guardianship of which the annals of those troublous times record no instance of betrayal.

  • I can testify, from my own experience and observation, that slavery is a curse to the whites as well as to the blacks. It makes the white fathers cruel and sensual; the sons violent and licentious; it contaminates the daughters, and makes the wives wretched. And as for the colored race, it needs an abler pen than mine to describe the extremity of their sufferings, the depth of their degradation.

  • The degradation, the wrongs, the vices, that grow out of slavery, are more than I can describe. They are greater than you would willingly believe.

  • Could you have seen that mother clinging to her child, when they fastened the irons upon his wrists; could you have heard her heart-rending groans, and seen her bloodshot eyes wander wildly from face to face, vainly pleading for mercy; could you have witnessed that scene as I saw it, you would exclaim, Slavery is damnable!

  • No pen can give an adequate description of the all-pervading corruption produced by slavery.

  • The slave child had no thought for the morrow; but there came that blight, which too surely waits on every human being born to be a chattel.

  • ... I was ordered to go for flowers, that my mistress's house might be decorated for an evening party. I spent the day gathering flowers and weaving them into festoons, while the dead body of my father was lying within a mile of me. What cared my owners for that? he was merely a piece of property. Moreover, they thought he had spoiled his children, by teaching them to feel that they were human beings. This was blasphemous doctrine for a slave to teach; presumptuous in him, and dangerous to the masters.

  • Notwithstanding my grandmother's long and faithful service to her owners, not one of her children escaped the auction block. These God-breathing machines are no more, in the sight of their masters, than the cotton they plant, or the horses they tend.

  • Oh, could slavery exist long if it did not sit on a commercial throne?

  • Oh, was it not strangely inconsistent that men fresh, so fresh, from the baptism of the Revolution should make such concessions to the foul spirit of Despotism! that, when fresh from gaining their own liberty, they could permit the African slave trade — could let their national flag hang a sign of death on Guinea's coast and Congo's shore!

  • This book is inscribed to my beloved aunt Sarah Orr Clark who, working at six dollars a month, saved one hundred and twenty-five dollars, and bought my freedom.

  • I was the conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can't say — I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.

    • Harriet Tubman,
    • in Sarah H. Bradford, Harriet, the Moses of Her People ()
  • I was free; but there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom, I was a stranger in a strange land ...

    • Harriet Tubman,
    • in Sarah H. Bradford, Harriet, The Moses of Her People ()
  • I had reasoned this out in my mind; there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty, or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other; for no man should take me alive ...

    • Harriet Tubman,
    • in Sarah H. Bradford, Harriet, The Moses of Her People ()
  • Captive people have a need for song.

  • Death is a slave's freedom.

  • Slavery always has, and always will produce insurrections wherever it exists, because it is a violation of the natural order of things ...

  • The investigation of the rights of the slave has led me to a better understanding of my own. I have found the anti-slavery cause to be ... the school in which human rights are more fully investigated and better understood and taught than in any other.

  • However you disguise slavery, it is slavery still. Its chains, though wreathed with roses, not only fasten on the body but rivet on the mind.

  • To the Memory of those faithful brown slave-men of the plantations throughout the South, Daddy's contemporaries all, who during the war while their masters were away fighting in a cause opposed to their emancipation, brought their blankets and slept outside their mistresses' doors, thus keeping night-watch over otherwise unprotected women and children — a faithful guardianship of which the annals of those troublous times record no instance of betrayal.

  • [When asked how she learned about the Bill of Rights, which she used to sue for her freedom:] By keepin' still and mindin' things.

  • Any time, any time while I was a slave, if one minute's freedom had been offered to me, and I had been told I must die at the end of that minute, I would have taken it — just to stand one minute on God's earth a free woman — I would.

  • It is difficult for the American mind to adjust to the realization that the Rhetts and Scarletts were as much monsters as the keepers of Buchenwald — they just dressed more attractively.

  • This is what I hold against slavery. May come a time when I forgive — cause I don't think I'm set up to forget — the beatings, the selling, the killings, but I don't think I ever forgive the ignorance they kept us in.

  • O Slavery, hateful thing ...

    • Susan B. Anthony,
    • 1854, in Deborah Hopkinson, Susan B. Anthony: Fighter for Women's Rights ()
  • Slavery is dead, but the spirit which animated it still lives.

  • I have been a slave myself — I know what slaves feel — I can tell by myself what other slaves feel, and by what they have told me. The man that says slaves be quite happy in slavery — that they don't want to be free — that man is either ignorant or a lying person. I never heard a slave say so.

  • On my underground railroad I never ran my train off the track, and I never lost a passenger.

    • Harriet Tubman,
    • plaque in the Auburn, NY, county courthouse, in Anna L. Curtis, Stories of the Underground Railroad ()
  • The Southern newspapers, with their advertisements of negro sales and personal descriptions of fugitive slaves, supply details of misery that it would be difficult for imagination to exceed. Scorn, derision, insult, menace — the handcuff, the last — the tearing away of children from parents, of husbands from wives — the weary trudging in droves along the common highways, the labor of body, the despair of mind, the sickness of heart — these are the realities which belong to the system, and form the rule, rather that the exception, in the slave's experience.

  • [Letter to the editor on Uncle Tom's Cabin:] In treating Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe's work as an exaggerated picture of the evils of slavery, I beg to assure you that you do her serious injustice: of the merits of her book as a work of art I have no desire to speak; to its power as a most interesting and pathetic story, all England and America can bear witness; but of its truth and moderation as a representation of the slave system in the United States, I can testify with the experience of an eyewitness, having been a resident in the Southern states and had opportunities of observation such as no one who has not lived on a slave estate can have. ... with the exception of the horrible catastrophe, the flogging to death of poor Tom, she has portrayed none of the most revolting instances of crime produced by the slave system, with which she might have darkened her picture, without detracting from its perfect truth.

  • ... the inescapable fact that stuck in my craw, was: my people had sold me and the white people had bought me . . . . It impressed upon me the universal nature of greed and glory.

  • The African slave trade is the most dramatic chapter in the story of human existence. Therefore a great literature has grown up about it. ... All the talk, printed and spoken, has had to do with ships and rations ... with native kings and bargains sharp and sinful on both sides; with tribal wars and slave factories and red massacres and all the machinations necessary to stock a barracoon with African youth on the first leg of their journey from humanity to cattle ... All these words from the seller, but not one word from the sold ... not one word from the cargo. The thoughts of the 'black ivory,' the 'coin of Africa,' had no market value. Africa’s ambassadors to the New World have come and worked and died, and left their spoor, but no recorded thought.

  • [On being sold:] Did one of the many by-standers, who were looking at us so carelessly, think of the pain that wrung the hearts of the negro woman and her young ones? No, no! ... Oh, those white people have small hearts who can only feel for themselves.

  • It was night when I reached my new home. ... The stones and the timber were the best things in it; they were not so hard as the hearts of the owners.