siblings

siblings

Enslaved African Americans in the antebellum South exhibited all the features of the “survivor” complex shared by siblings of all races in colonial America. Despite, maybe even owing to, the vulnerability of the sibling tie, slave brothers and sisters cared about and depended on each other. As the institution of slavery hardened and spread to the Lower South after the American Revolution, African Americans both gained and lost siblings.  Family size grew with the evening-out of sex ratios and development of slave communities, but the internal slave trade tore away teen aged brothers and sisters in particular, and dragged them farther away from home. Given their relative lack of literacy, the stream of slave testimony to the trauma caused by separation from siblings is striking. Whether a searing memory from childhood or the determined quest to liberate adult brothers or sisters, this evidence leaves no doubt as to the importance of this relationship in fostering the family love that helped men and women live with the constraints of the system, and sometimes to break out of it. Slave siblings truly were survivors. Some research suggests that African American adult siblings today are closer than are their white counterparts; if this is so, it may be legacy of the brothers and sisters of the slave quarter.

  • Siblings Brothers & Sisters in American History by C. Dallett Hemphill
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