The Misconceptions of Male and Female Slaves During the 19th Century

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The Misconceptions of Male and Female Slaves during the 19th Century

The lives of African Americans slaves throughout the 1800’s proved to be filled with challenges to say the least as slavery overwhelmed the southern states in America. Both men and women slaves were confronted with similar issues as well as issues specific to their gender at this time. Writers like William W. Brown and Frances E.W. Harper have discussed the misconceptions of slavery through their own gender perspectives including countering the common beliefs associated with black intelligence or lack thereof, male fugitive slaves, and slave mothers.   

           One prominent issue and misconception all African American slaves both male and female had dealt with was the fact that they were seen as unintelligent and incapable of becoming literate. To them, literacy meant empowerment, prestige, and most importantly freedom. However, learning was often kept from them. Frances E.W. Harper addresses why this occured in her poem “Learning to Read.” She says, “Knowledge did’nt agree with slavery- ‘Twould make us all too wise” (455). These two lines have significant meaning behind them. First of all, we can see that this poem is written in first person making it much more personal. Next, she addresses the issue of slaves gaining too much knowledge. At the time, if slaves learned how to read they would inevitably gain power which is something that the Rebels feared for they were afraid of retaliation and the loss of power. In addition, the slaveholders often justified their actions toward slaves by saying that they were inferior and unintelligent beings by nature. If slaves became literate, their actions could no longer be justified.

Furthermore, Harper counters the common belief that slaves were incapable of learning by discussing how slaves overcame this misconception as to motivate her African American audience. She goes on to tell the reader how slaves began to teach themselves in secret how to...