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Article

John Gilmore

Also known as Sara or Saartjie, and as Bartman (1788?–1815/16), a member of the Khoisan people of southern Africa, exhibited as a ‘freak’ in 19th‐century Britain. Her original name is unknown, but when she was employed by a Dutch farmer called Peter Cezar, she was given the Afrikaans name of Saartjie [Little Sarah] Baartman, and this was later Anglicized in various forms. In 1810 she was brought to Britain by Peter Cezar's brother Hendric [or Henrick], a Boer farmer at the Cape, and Alexander Dunlop, a British army surgeon. Dunlop soon sold his interest in the enterprise to Cezar, who made money by exhibiting Baartman in London and elsewhere in Britain under the name of ‘the Hottentot Venus’. ‘Hottentot’ was a traditional derogatory term for Khoisan people, while ‘Venus’ appears intended to refer to the idea of ‘the Sable Venus or more generally ...

Article

Tiffany M. Gill

Black is beautiful This familiar cry of the Black Power movement was revolutionary in its celebration of the culture style politics and physical attributes of peoples of African descent Symbols of the black is beautiful aesthetic most notably the Afro not only conjured up ideas about black beauty but also highlighted its contentious relationship with black politics and identity This tension between beauty standards and black politics and identity however did not first emerge in the late twentieth century with the Afro or the Black Power movement In fact blacks particularly black women have been struggling to navigate the paradoxical political nature of black identity and beauty since their enslavement in the Americas Despite this strained relationship black women have actively sought to define beauty in their lives and in the process created and sustained one of the most resilient and successful black controlled enterprises in America the black beauty ...

Article

Sharla M. Fett

The history of African American women’s childbearing is one of cultural resilience and profound structural oppression. Far more than a mere biological event, childbirth has been an important social and religious experience in African American communities. At the same time, slavery, poverty, and discrimination have strongly shaped the social realities of childbearing for many black women. Despite important changes in birth practices over the last three centuries, the experiences of pregnancy and childbirth continue to be closely connected to the broader political and economic struggles of African American women.

From the many cultures of West and Central Africa captive women carried their understandings of birth into the slave societies of the New World Though widely varied African gender systems emphasized the importance of motherhood and fertility to women s social identity and family lineage Captivity by slave traders brought African social institutions of childbirth into a collision with slavery s ...

Article

Wilma King

A variable social construction, the concept of childhood barely existed in early America. In fact, this special period of growth and development experienced before accepting adult responsibilities was not an entrenched American institution until the twentieth century. The time at which this protected segment of the lifecycle ends is debatable. Some scholars and public officials have used twelve as the cutoff while others set it at age sixteen or eighteen. Still others claim childhood lasts until twenty-one years of age.

Age limits aside, other factors, including color, class, status, and the embracing shield of loved ones, are significant in determining if girls enjoy a protected period in their formative years. There are also concerns about their psychological well-being and freedom from emotional devastation, which may mature girls beyond their chronological years.

Article

Jessica Millward

Black women in early America lived in territory held by the Spanish, the British, the French, and the Dutch. While the presence of African and African American slaves in places such as Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas, and even New England is well known, black women also lived in the Spanish colonies, which comprised portions of present-day California, Florida, and New Mexico. Black women also had a formidable presence in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, which is present-day New York, as well as in the French territory of New Orleans. While the overwhelming number of black women in what became the United States lived their entire lives as slaves, some were indentured servants, and some were free persons. Black women traveled with explorers to present-day New Mexico, petitioned their respective colonial governments for freedom, and produced literary works.

The experiences of black women in early America varied depending on whether ...

Article

Benjamin R. Justesen

teacher, farmer, public official, and three-term state legislator, was born a slave in Granville County, North Carolina, near the county seat of Oxford, to unnamed unknown parents. Little is known of his childhood, except that he received a limited education before the Civil War, probably because of his preferred status as the property, and possibly the son, of a prosperous white planter named Benjamin Crews. One account of Crews's early life says he was taken from his slave mother “at the age of two years and reared by a white family whose name he bore” (Edmonds, 102). He is also said to have attended both private and public schools in Oxford, where he grew up.

By 1870 Crews's education had enabled him to begin work as a schoolteacher in Oxford, even as he also ran his own farm and worked as a carpenter. Beginning in 1874 Crews embarked ...

Article

Eunuchs  

Sean Stillwell

The term eunuchs denotes males who were emasculated and thus rendered incapable of sexual relations. Eunuchs were widely used and were valued slaves—primarily because they could be used to guard and supervise women in the harems of sovereigns and rulers—in many diverse regions of the world, ranging from Ming Dynasty China to Ottoman Turkey. Their most frequent function was to ensure that women remained the exclusive sexual property of their masters. Although the word eunuch in its original Greek sense meant “bed guard,” they were also used as soldiers, personal retainers, administrators, and entertainers. Thus eunuchs were used beyond the harem, and many undertook important political duties well beyond their role as harem-guardians.

Eunuchs were made from young usually prepubescent boys After being captured or sold into slavery these boys were transformed into eunuchs by undergoing a dangerous operation often performed by experienced surgeons Despite the reputed skill of many ...

Article

Lucy MacKeith

From as early as the 16th century, black people were employed in Britain as musicians and performers, and there was often an element of display in the employment of black servants, whose exotic appearance served to advertise their masters' wealth, colonial connections, or both.

Rather different was the way in which, particularly in the 18th and 19th centuries, there were cases of black people being displayed as exhibits to appeal to the curiosity of white viewers, especially if they were in some way out of the ordinary. Sometimes the curiosity was allegedly scientific, as with the ‘white boy’ (an albino child of African parents, born in Virginia in 1755) who was brought to Britain and ‘shewn before the Royal Society’ in London in January 1765 More often it was the result of the same sort of attitude that attracted paying customers to exhibitions of white people who were ...

Article

Charles W. Jr. Carey

medical researcher, pediatrician, and hospital administrator, was born in Washington, D.C., to George and Mary Ferguson, occupations unknown. Despite having grown up poor, she decided to become a secretary or an accountant and somehow found enough money to enter Howard University. During her sophomore year, she took a chemistry course that redirected her education and led her to pursue a career in science and medicine. After receiving a BS in Chemistry in 1945, she entered the Howard University Medical School and received an MD in 1949. Upon completing her internship and residency in pediatrics at Washington's Freedmen's Hospital, which was also Howard's teaching hospital, she opened a private practice as a pediatrician in the nation's capital.

Because Ferguson s practice catered to African American patients she became interested in determining what constituted normal development in an African American infant She quickly realized however that no ...

Article

Gender  

Maria Elena Raymond

Gender roles in enslaved African American families in the United States before the Civil War were many and varied. Beliefs and traditions handed down through African family lineages; the pressures of environmental conditions (including geographical locations); British and American slaveholder practices in the treatment of their “property”; the forced separation of husbands from wives, parents from children, brothers from sisters; local politics and resulting laws with regard to the enslaved; the personal beliefs of individual slaveholders; and changing economic patterns were among the factors determining gender roles.

Throughout colonial American times the slave population increasingly consisted not of Africans but of African Americans The creation of an African American culture replete with evolving gender roles stemmed not only from African generational heritage but also from the influence of the British American world Enslaved African American people and their families were forced to adapt to constantly shifting pressures and drew upon ...

Article

Ruth Mazo Karras

Although there were many commonalities in the experiences of all slaves, there were also important lines of division among slaves. One of these divisions was gender. In any given society men and women, both enslaved and enslaving, experienced slavery differently. The experience of men and women slaves differed both for biological reasons related to their sexual and reproductive use, and for sociocultural reasons related to gender divisions of labor.

In many societies slaves have been predominantly or stereotypically female In part this is because war was an important source of slaves and men were often killed rather than captured Women captives of various social groups were part of the booty of war Elite women for example might become wives or concubines the distinction was not made in many legal kinship and linguistic systems although they never gained the status of a wife married by agreement with her male relatives In ...

Article

Diane Todd Bucci

journalist, author, editor, and professor, grew up in Yonkers, New York. Her parents were Curtis G. Giddings and Virginia Stokes Giddings, and both were college educated. Her father was a teacher and guidance counselor, and her mother was employed as a guidance counselor as well. The family's neighborhood was integrated, and Giddings was the first African American to attend her private elementary school, where she was the victim of racial attacks. Even now, Giddings regrets that she allowed herself to be silenced by these attacks. This, no doubt, is what compelled her to develop her voice as a writer. Giddings graduated from Howard University with a BA in English in 1969, and she worked as an editor for several years. Her first job was as an editorial assistant at Random House from 1969 to 1970 and then she became a copy editor at Random ...

Article

John Gilmore

One of the most popular themes in 18th‐century British (and European) literature, the story of Inkle and Yarico became part of the growth of feeling opposed to the slave trade and slavery in the later part of the century.

In his True & Exact History of the Island of Barbadoes (1657), Richard Ligon (c.1590–1662) described meeting there an Amerindian woman called Yarico. He reported how she was originally from the coast of South America, where she had rescued a young Englishman who was in danger from her compatriots, and how in return the young man had taken her to Barbados and sold her as a slave. Ligon's story may have been based on fact, but in 1711 the well‐known Irish writer Richard Steele (1672–1729) published a version that added many fanciful details, giving the young man the name of Thomas Inkle ...

Article

Carla Williams

Lesbian sexuality has always existed among women of the African diaspora Lesbianism is not a new phenomenon nor is it wholly a result of interaction with Europeans as many blacks claim White anthropologists in Africa perpetuated this notion failing to acknowledge in their reports the preexistence of homosexuality or when acknowledging it attributing it to the influence of aberrations of Western behavior In turn this morality often steeped in Christianity became the morality of the first generation of postcolonial Africans There is even a persistent school of thought within the black community that gays and lesbians simply do not exist In truth homosexuality and same sex relationships have always been a natural part of African communities whereas homophobia was largely an import from the West A prevailing perception is that black people as a whole are intolerant of homosexuality within their community often attributing it to the negative influence and ...

Article

Jane Dailey

Marriage is regulated in the United States by state, not federal, law. Between the 1660s and the 1960s forty-one colonies or states passed laws regulating interracial marriage and sex. People of African descent were uniformly targeted by such laws, which also often prohibited whites from marrying Native Americans and those whose ancestors came from the Indian subcontinent, Asia, or the South Pacific.

The history of slavery emancipation and the black freedom struggle cannot be understood without reference to interracial sex and marriage Racially restrictive marriage laws termed antimiscegenation laws after the Civil War were an important milestone in the creation of racial slavery in antebellum America because they limited the possibility of color confusion in a system increasingly predicated on physiognomy After emancipation arguments about mixed marriage and interracial sex played a central if not the central role in the white supremacist construction of a system of racial classification and ...

Article

Gregory D. Smithers

As a historically constructed category, masculinity is used to define culturally dominant ideals of manhood in a given society at specific periods in history. In the British colonies of North America and what later became the United States, masculinity was associated with such qualities as bravery, honor, virtue, rationality, discipline, property ownership, and political rights. Throughout the colonial and early national periods of North American history, African American men articulated their desire to conform with, aspire to, and attain many of these masculine labels. Their efforts, however, were circumscribed by slavery and racism, making their attempts to conform to dominant masculine ideals difficult, if not impossible, and exposing such attempts to episodes of white scorn and derision.

Black masculinity in North America provides an example of how the historically contingent categories of race and gender often intersect In early colonial Virginia for example it was not inevitable that Africans and ...

Article

Caryn E. Neumann

Midwives provided the great majority of medical care for African American families in the antebellum years. Best known for assisting women through childbirth, these older women also provided a range of medical services, from herbal remedies for fevers to abortions for slaves. The enormous value of the services that midwives provided made them highly respected members of African American communities.

The English word midwife is derived from mid, meaning “with,” and wif which means wife or woman The literal definition to be with woman during childbirth is the essence of midwifery The term refers to the care provided to women regardless of the type of practitioner but generally neither husbands nor male physicians were welcomed in the lying in chamber until the rise of obstetric physicians in the latter half of the eighteenth century As part of the normal female reproductive function and life cycle pregnancy and childbirth ...

Article

Sika Alaine Dagbovie

Black/white mixed-race women have been alternately praised and defiled in American racial discourse, literature, and film. For centuries in the United States, black people were classified according to the amount of their “black blood.” This “one-drop rule” emerged from the South, constructing social and legal definitions of who was black. Quadroon and octoroon described someone who was one-fourth black and one-eighth black, respectively. The term mulatto (mulatta, feminine) originates from the Latin word mulus meaning mule and from the Spanish word for young mule The word was originally used for someone who was the offspring of a pure negro and a pure white During and after slavery most whites thought that mulattoes were intellectually superior to and more attractive than pure blacks while simultaneously classifying them as hopelessly confused and psychologically unstable So called scientists compared mulattoes to mules claiming that mixed race people could not procreate ...

Article

Deborah Gray White

Black and white American motherhood have always differed. Unlike white motherhood, black mothering has always existed in tandem with productive labor, and it has seldom been an isolated, individual undertaking. Where white motherhood has always been revered, black mothers have been maligned through the centuries. Though their hardships have been great, at times overwhelming, African American mothers made themselves a bulwark against American racism. Indeed, the history of African American motherhood proves beyond doubt that motherhood is powerful.

Article

Joshua V. P. Sibblies

Reconstruction-era schoolteacher, was born in Hartford, Connecticut, the daughter of Holdridge Primus, a porter and later clerk, and Mehitable Jacobs, a seamstress. The Primuses were a prominent family in Connecticut's African American community, and her younger brother, Nelson Primus, achieved some success as an artist. They were one of the only thirty-five African American families in Hartford who owned property, and because of this they lived in a predominantly white neighborhood. This did not prevent them from forging strong ties with fellow blacks in Hartford. The family attended the Talcott Street Congregational Church, and their home doubled as an employment agency for young African American women. Rebecca attended the school located in the church, taught by Pastor James W. Pennington, a former runaway slave, a nationally known abolitionist, and the author of one of the earliest histories of African Americans.

Rebecca s social standing the ...