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Family or FreedomPeople of Color in the Antebellum South$
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Emily West

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780813136929

Published to Kentucky Scholarship Online: May 2013

DOI: 10.5810/kentucky/9780813136929.001.0001

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(p.153) Conclusion
Family or Freedom

Emily West

University Press of Kentucky

The conclusion suggests a re-conceptualization of the meanings of slavery, freedom, and the significance of affective relationships under a system of racial oppression. While it is surprising that neither pro-slavery advocates nor proponents of the later “Lost Cause” drew greater attention to free blacks' enslavement requests as a propaganda tool, the explanation relates to contemporary discourses about slavery and freedom. Unhindered by bondage, free people of color were at “liberty” to attempt legally to change their status. But this “choice” provoked among slaveholders feelings of unease about black initiative even when the requests were for slavery itself. Enslavement petitioners were workers attempting to secure subsistence, who were engaged in a process of individual bargaining which was itself limited by coercion and discrimination. Their motivations were multi-faceted but beyond the performance of perceived white benevolence expressed in the immediate language of petitions, they also expose the complex ties that existed among and between free people of color, the enslaved, and white society. Family relationships assumed priority over legal status for free black petitioners.

Keywords:   Affective relationships, Enslavement requests, Legal status, Racial discrimination, Petitions, Family Relationships

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