Closer to Freedom

Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South

Camp, Stephanie M. H.

(Book - 2004)
Average Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5.
Closer to Freedom
The University of North Carolina Press
Focusing on female slaves' everyday forms of resistance--such as truancy, theft, and illegal parties--Camp argues that the Civil War years saw revolutionary change that had been in the making for decades, as slaves broke rules, spoke their minds, and ran away.

Recent scholarship on slavery has explored the lives of enslaved people beyond the watchful eye of their masters. Building on this work and the study of space, social relations, gender, and power in the Old South, Stephanie Camp examines the everyday containment and movement of enslaved men and, especially, enslaved women. In her investigation of the movement of bodies, objects, and information, Camp extends our recognition of slave resistance into new arenas and reveals an important and hidden culture of opposition.

Camp discusses the multiple dimensions to acts of resistance that might otherwise appear to be little more than fits of temper. She brings new depth to our understanding of the lives of enslaved women, whose bodies and homes were inevitably political arenas. Through Camp's insight, truancy becomes an act of pursuing personal privacy. Illegal parties ("frolics") become an expression of bodily freedom. And bondwomen who acquired printed abolitionist materials and posted them on the walls of their slave cabins (even if they could not read them) become the subtle agitators who inspire more overt acts.

The culture of opposition created by enslaved women's acts of everyday resistance helped foment and sustain the more visible resistance of men in their individual acts of running away and in the collective action of slave revolts. Ultimately, Camp argues, the Civil War years saw revolutionary change that had been in the making for decades.

Series that include this title

Publisher: Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, c2004
ISBN: 0807855340
Characteristics: xi, 206 p. : ill. ; 25 cm.


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Jul 22, 2011
  • floy rated this: 3.5 stars out of 5.

Although the book started out as a dissertation and although it seems, at first glance, to be dense and univiting, it's actually a good book. The author focuses on women's experiences as"bondwomen" or slaves. She says that they were often referred to by body parts such as "heads" as if they were cattle. Sometimes the women were called by the tools they used, as in "hoes". The author talks about the various small ways the bondpeople escaped their entrapped lives - by getting away to clandestine nighttime parties in the woods, by managing to make fancy clothes for those parties, by using abolition newspapers and photos as decoration in their cabins, by temporarily running away and hiding for a few days relief, or by trying to escape north. Sometimes the language is a bit pretentious. For example, the author refers often to the "rival geography" meaning the woods where slaves could hide and gather even though on the property of slaveowners. The author also used terms like "spacial illiteracy" to refer to bondwomen's unfamiliarity with the area outside the plantation where they lived. But despite the occasional academic language, the average layperson can easily read this book and learn something about what life was really like for enslaved women.


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Camp, Stephanie M. H.
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