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Posted on May 8th, 2012, by

Nineteenth century historic period in the USA is characterized by such a bitter and infamous phenomenon as slavery.  Before the beginning of the Civil War (1861-1865) there were about 4 millions Afro-American slaves living on the territory of the USA, who mostly inhabited the southern regions of the country.  Indeed, southern regions of the USA stood for preservation of slavery, as the majority of slave owners lived on the territory of Confederate States, which were formed in opposition to the northern regions known as the Union.  As a result of the Civil War slavery was abolished on the territory of the USA and was forbidden in future, however, the years which Afro-Americans spent under slavery had a significant impact on them, their personal and family life.  Slaves’ main occupation was to work on plantations, producing tobacco, sugar, cotton and rice or to provide domestic services for their masters.

Women and children were exploited as well as men, however, sometimes women were involved not only into hard work in the fields or at masters’ houses, but also into sexual exploitation by their slaveholders, who later would want their female slaves gone.  The period in the U.S. history before the Civil War flared up was called antebellum period by historians, which literary means before the war.  This period is characterised by high density of Afro-American slaves in the southern parts of the USA.  The owners of slaves never considered the latter as people, but always as their property.  This status of property meant constant threats and violence for slaves, whose lives cost almost nothing.  Slaves lived in very poor conditions and had inappropriate nutrition which never met the requirements of their hard workload.

The main purpose of the current is to speak about the impact of slavery on the black family.  The paper will focus on the status of black family during the given historic period and its further development.

Did Slavery Destroy The Black Family?

     Slavery in the USA had a large impact on all Afro-American population, which inhabited the country at that time.

This impact can be still felt nowadays, as the consequences of such a relationship between the whites and the blacks are immense.  Common opinion on the modern institute of black family is rather negative, stating that the black families are not so morally developed as the white ones.  Indeed, there is a large number of single-parent black families living in the USA, however, the number of white single-parent families is not smaller.  In order to understand the problems that black families face it is necessary to analyze the development of black families throughout the history.  There is no doubt that family relations used to be very different when black people lived in Africa before they had been brought to the USA as slaves in the 19th century.  There is no proof that something changed in the mentality of Afro-Americans that could have impacted their family life, however, there are a lot of evidences proving that slavery, under which Afro-Americans lived for decades, affected the black family in a negative way.

As it has been mentioned above life of slaves in the 19th century was very miserable as they had to face all sorts of hardships, but the worst hardship was surely their dependence on the slave owners, who could do everything they wished with the slaves.  They could insult them, beat, sell or even kill, because the lives of slaves cost almost nothing, and only depended on the amount of work they could or could not accomplish.  So, all slaves suffered no matter where they lived or to whom they belonged.  Because slaves were not really considered as people but only as work force, their owners could sell them any time not paying attention that they are breaking a family apart.  That is why a lot of scientists believe that the vicissitudes of slavery destroyed African familial structures and gave rise to a multiplicity of black family constellations that continue to exist today [3].  Of course, slavery had its impact on black families, because usually slave owners would separate the families, creating single-parent families.  Some of the women who were involved into sexual relations with their owners gave birth to children, but such facts did not help the women and their children to get free, instead, slave owners would sell away such women, giving them no chance to see their families again.  Sexual exploitation had another very serious impact on black families, as men, husbands, could not protect their wives from being involved into sexual relationship with slave owners.  Women could be sexually harassed or raped by their owners, while nobody could protect them, because all slaves were punished severely for even the smallest faults they did.  Sexual exploitation did have its impact on black families, as it destroyed, in many cases, emotional attachment between the spouses.  However, some slaves were strong, not even some, but a lot of them were very strong.  This is how they managed to survive.  Some of the slaves tried to harm their owners, and for this reason they damaged machinery, slowed down the velocity of their work, pretended to be sick, destroyed crops and etc.  Slaves used even more violent methods of protesting against their enslaved position, which included killing their masters (food poisoning or using some sort of weapon), burning their houses and stealing valuable things.  Some of the slaves also tried to escape their master and head to the north; however, it was a rather dangerous action to do, because if a slave did not succeed, he/she was exposed to more violent treatment than before the escape or even to death penalty.  The author of several important articles on slavery Lerone Bennett states that The forgotten founding fathers and mothers, the ancestors of contemporary Blacks, did all this in the face of obstacles and proscriptions that would have destroyed a lesser people. By all odds, they should have been destroyed, physically and spiritually, on the slave ships and plantations. But they were so tough, these people, that nothing – neither slandered, nor segregation, nor discrimination could destroy them [1].  I cannot but agree with this statement, as the survival for slaves was a real challenge.

As a result of slavery black families received new characteristic features; one of them is the prevalence of families with the mother acting as a householder rather than a father, and as it is suggested in the book by Sue Jewell: patriarchal nature of traditional African families was submerged during slavery [3].

In my opinion, it is not correct to state that the slavery destroyed black families.  It did destroy some of the families in that period of time and affected the whole institute of black family; however, black families did not disappear and managed to preserve some of its major characteristics.  Historic evidence proves that slave owners did not pay attention to any family ties while dealing with their slaves, that’s why the man and wife might be sold to the pine woods of North Carolina, their brothers and sisters be scattered through the cotton fields of Alabama and rice swamps of Louisiana, while the parents might be left on the old plantation to wear out their weary lives in grief, and lay their heads in far-off graves, over which their children might never weep [6].

Conclusion

Having spoken about the impact of slavery on black family it is necessary to make a conclusion.  Slavery had a dramatic effect on every Afro-American living in the USA before the Civil War.  Living under constant threats of being sold away black families tried to preserve their family ties.  And those who were separated did all their best to reunite with their families after slavery was abolished.  Some of them managed, some did not.  However, the black family was not destroyed by the slavery, otherwise, there wouldn’t be any black families living on the territory of the United States nowadays.

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