Explain the private lives of enslaved Black women and their families, their overseers, their masters, and their mistresses with reference to The Old South by Mark M. Smith.

The private lives of enslaved Black women entailed a combination of normative feminine and masculine traits. They married, cared for their children, and tried to protect each other from harm. Ultimately, their private lives were shaped by the degree of cruelty inflicted upon them by their white masters and mistresses.

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A good starting point for this question is Brenda E. Stevenson’s section “Slave Women and Definitions of Womanhood.” Here, Stevenson uses Fannie Berry to help highlight the private lives of Black female slaves. An ex-slave, Berry relays the story of Mamy Lou, another slave who saved a young slave named...

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A good starting point for this question is Brenda E. Stevenson’s section “Slave Women and Definitions of Womanhood.” Here, Stevenson uses Fannie Berry to help highlight the private lives of Black female slaves. An ex-slave, Berry relays the story of Mamy Lou, another slave who saved a young slave named John from a violent party of white people.

Berry emphasizes Mamy Lou’s quilt and how John ran "between Mamy Lou’s legs.” For Stevenson, the quilt and space between Mamy Lou’s legs indicate that the private lives of female slaves remained linked to typical feminine qualities. Yet the private lives of enslaved women had to take on normative masculine traits to defend and protect themselves and others in their community from the abuses of white people.

The threat of assault demonstrates that the private lives of enslaved Black women and their white masters and mistresses were entangled. Fannie Berry’s master was George Abbott. His private life involved attempting to rape his Black female slaves. After their cook, Sukie, violently rebuffed him, he stopped sexually assaulting slave girls.

A white master and overseer could negatively impact the private lives of Black female slaves in other ways. While enslaved women cared for and comforted their children as best they could, it was not possible to completely protect them from the brutalities of slavery. Their children could still be beaten by overseers and sold by masters.

White mistresses could disrupt the private lives of female slaves at any moment as well. Stevenson notes one slave, Liza Brown, whose mistress had Brown’s mom stripped and beaten while she was pregnant.

Berry had a positive view of her mistress. She tried to keep the private lives of female slaves intact. According to Berry, her mistress strove to preserve families and would purchase the husbands of the enslaved women.

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