By Barney Blakeney
Dr. Lisa Brock, Academic Director of the Arcus Center of Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College where she has worked to infuse social justice into Liberal Arts Education, recently concluded a two-month stay in Charleston during which she participated in the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture’s Race And Social Justice Initiative.
While in Charleston she conducted research for her new book and documented the information as part of the Race and Social Justice Initiative. Before leaving Charleston she moderated a “research-in-progress” gathering at the Avery Center on November 15. About 25 participants, who included scholars, activists and historians attended the event where Brock outlined some of the information she collected.
Brock’s research explored life in Charleston relative to slavery. The geographic and literary information she obtained revealed many connections to Blacks living in Charleston today. Among her most notable research findings were in areas such as Racial Capitalism and Policing, Crime and Punishment. Her exploration produced some provocative revelations. Central to the existence in the culture of slavery were economics and resistance, she said.
Enslaved people in Charleston were ‘supra’ exploited, her research reveals. Prevalent concepts of master and slave scratch the surface of relationships that extended beyond mere servitude. It included psychological as well as physical manifestations. Not only did slave owners lay claim to the labor their slaves produced, they also claimed ownership to every aspect of their slaves lives including the sanctity of their bodies. Human reproduction also was a commodity in the slave economy. Every aspect of a slave’s life was an economic option for the master.
As chattel capable of producing immense wealth in many different ways, slaves were valuable possessions. Slave owners went to extreme measures to keep those possessions. Penalties for running away and/or harboring runaway slaves were severe. And slave owners whose slaves somehow were ‘damaged’ or injured, were appropriately compensated for their loss. For example, the owners of slaves executed as a result of the Denmark Vesey Slave Revolt of 1822 were compensated for their losses, she noted.
Still there was resistance, Brock noted. That resistance took many forms. Thievery, though severely punished, was a common form of resistance, she said. The act of stealing often meant more than merely taking something; it represented depriving slave owners of coveted possessions and wealth. Punishment for such acts could range from whippings to death. And thus stealing themselves, or running away to ‘freedom’ in a land that offered little haven was an extreme and oft repeated act of defiance.
Some acts of resistance continue today, she said noting behavior among African Americans that easily may be co-related to that of their enslaved ancestors. “The instinct to be free is stronger than the terror of the penalties,” Brock said.