Slavery

Most Americans know about the Underground Railroad, the route that allowed Southern slaves to escape North. Some slaves found freedom by hiding closer to home, however — in Great Dismal Swamp.

The swamp is a vast wetland in southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. In George Washington's time, it was a million acres of trees, dark water, bears, bobcats, snakes and stinging insects. British settlers, who first arrived in 1607, believed the swamp was haunted.

By 1620, some of their slaves may have overcome that fear to find freedom there.

Raleigh Little Theatre

In popular culture, the term cakewalk means anything that is effortless and easy.

A picture of the 13th Amendment document.
NC Department of Cultural Resources

North Carolina's copy of the 13th Amendment is now on tour.  The document that marked the formal end of slavery in the US will be on display at the courthouse in Historic Edenton. 

Officials say the series of stops at historic sites across the state is part of the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War.  The timing is also linked to Juneteenth. African Americans observe June 19th as when the last of the enslaved learned they were free in the summer of 1865. 

Sarah Koontz is a state archivist.  She said the document has to be handled with care.

On a warm spring night, more than 150 people gathered in Shockoe Bottom, a name taken from the Native American word for a site in Richmond, Va. This part of town, bounded by I-95 and bisected by railroad lines, was central to a city that prospered from the slave trade.

"The best guesstimate is several hundred thousand people were sold out of Shockoe Bottom," says Phil Wilayto, a leader of the grassroots movement to establish a memorial park here. "Probably the majority of African-Americans today could trace some ancestry to this small piece of land."

Book Cover for Legal Fictions: Constituting Race, Composing, Literature by Karla Hollway
dukeupress.edu / Duke University Press

From enslavement to the one-drop rule to the three-fifths compromise, United States law has defined African-American identity. Duke University professor Karla Holloway is exploring how black fiction connect racial identity and the creation of law for African Americans. 

The original deed book of slave records from Buncombe County.
Max Cooper, via mountainx.com

During the Great Depression, the New Deal funded a project to collect the narratives of former slaves.  Sarah Gudger came forward to give an account of her life as a slave in Buncombe County.  Her testimony was the same brutal story that is familiar to many of us.  She described a “hard life” of nothing but “work, work, work,” under the threat of abuse. 

African-American kinship often starts with slavery, an institution built on human trafficking – the buying and selling of people as if they were commodities.  The tearing apart of family was part of the violence of slavery and the constant threat of separation from your family was another kind of violence all its own. Historian Heather Williams studies the effects and after effects of slavery.

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