Literary Analysis Essay on Slave Breeding: Sex, Violence, and Memory in African American History

Published: 2021-06-30
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Wesleyan University
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Book review
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Slave Breeding: Sex, Violence, and Memory in African American History is a book that was written by Gregory D. Smithers. His academic specialization is History. Apart from Slave Breeding, he has also written Special Issue: Indigenous Histories of the American South during the Long Nineteenth Century.

About the Book

The article concerns the role of slave breeding that has not been given attention by historians in the history of Native Americans. Smothers attributes this error to several issues with the most crucial being the meaning of slave breeding. The author suggests that many readers would assume that slave breeding is an image of plantations where individuals are the main crop, and the master forcibly breeds black people. Smithers makes it clear while the practice occurred, it is not the exact meaning of slave breeding. He indicates that Slave breeding should be a definition that can be applied to all the actions that masters employed to control the sex lives and the sexual activities of the people who were slaved which include issues like rape, selling of family members and sexual assault. He offers the vernacular of slavery, an oral tale and creative arts that were performed by slaves and their ancestors as his evidence rather than the records of the plantation, trading of slaves and diaries of slave owner which for a long time have been utilized by historians of the slave in the south.


The writings of nineteenth-century abolitionists, memoirs by former slaves, and oral historiesare so skewed and biased that there is no possibility that such practices ever actually happened. In other words, there is assumed to be such a lack of tangible written, economic, and commercial evidence to prove empirically that slave breeding ever occurred that to pursue this topic would be like trying to transform a figment of ones imagination into something verifiably real (Smithers, 2012). Smithers thesis differs from other subjects since rather than focusing on the general issue of slavery, it concentrates on the most ignored part of sex breeding.

Critical Review

For most people, they will agree that slavery existed, but ideas could be different regarding the legacy it left. Smithers (2012) expose the different perception developed by tracing the historical patterns which are the natural background of the African American community and a white male dominated professional history. The books concept is convincing especially the way he approaches previous writings by questioning the basis of their writings. For instance, he examines the relationship between real masters and the surplus number of slaves in some cities like Maryland and Virginia in the era of antebellum. In his opinion, he believes masters on the upper South were not good than their colleagues from the south. The masters who are perceived to be good by other historians knowingly bred slaves for the purpose of selling them to make more profits. Smithers focuses more on the coercive and violent reproductive practices of slave breeding (Smithers, 2012) rather than the exclusive corporal punishments which are very convincing.

He utilizes the experiences of African American to explain the evidence to his claims of the breeding regimes as an equipment of reshaping his explanations of slavery in the antebellum south and post-revolutionary. He indicates that breeding is an essential trope that was employed in the construction of historical stories. He shows how slave breeding was used by masters in the 19thy and 20th centuries and it permitted them to put into modern context acts of racial and sexual violence against a brutal historical background (Smithers, 2012). He asserts that the experience of manipulation and sexual assault aids in explaining the mollification the sexual life of the blacks, discrimination based on gender and their roles, the fragile nature of the African American and the urge to become brutal and ethnic charged community (Smithers, 2012).

In the first chapter, Smithers offers intruding evidence all through by exploring the rising of slave breeding in the talks between before antislavery roles in the antebellum period and the tropes forces by the Lost Cause Mythologists of the time after antebellum. He indicates that White masters breeding of the Blacks were not just about profits and demographics as many people believe. There was something else, an interlocking practice that devalued the African Americans and left their life hanging by a thread (Smithers, 2012). The Black families were assaulted sexually, and this attracted the White allies, notably the northern abolitionists who were after protecting the sacred institution of marriage and family. However, the end of the Civil War saw the White southerners coming up with the Lost Cause that cast slavery as a decisive labor and left out the sexual violence, brutality and white abolitionist which had ascribed to marriage before the Civil War (Smithers, 2012). White historians from the north and a section of social scientists tried to depict illegal plantation experience which included slave breeding as an unnatural act of coercion that harmed the real roots of the southern politics hence destroying continuous evolution of the Whites. Smithers urges that African Americans were forced to grappled with the reign of slave breeding activities in the antebellum South where Black women who had the authority to bring up a generation of the Black community sought to control their household, ethical teachings, and reproductive life.

Smithers continue to offer some black electorates that African American history specialists, writers and former slaves in the mid-twentieth century utilized before the war slave-breeding activities. This is to oppose the story of subjugation of the White which portrayed an establishment as well as to pass on a more precise image of the abhorrence of bondage and the staggering heritage that the Black Americans had. He demonstrates the powerfulness of some students of History like Franklin Frazier and W.E.B. Dubois used experimental proof and the experience of the Black people in America of sexual exploitation under slavery to counter the racism that the White historians claimed as well as undermining statements which the black population had become economically impoverished marginalized and disenfranchised in matters of politics. It is because the school of subjection had been annihilated (Smithers, 2012). Similarly, as black antiquarians tried to reconsider the mythology and the White Lost Cause clarifications of the black issue, even the black writers of strongly opposed the endeavors to sterilize the centrality of subjection of the history of the United Sates and dissent on the bigotry and sexuality, which was, influenced in the mid-20th century Blacks.

Smithers (2012) indicates that the reign of Jim Crow saw crafting of playwrights tales for the black people to see and it transferred the lynching that took place in the south to the stage where the goals of politics could be attained by pointing out the emotional and historical relationship between slavery, sex, and violence. Imitations, music, and drama are the only things that reminded the black people in America that the legacy of slavery survived the ethnic based politics during Jim Crows regime and subtly motivated resistance to White concepts of Slavery and the race connections in the early 19th century. Smithers says that in the from the year 1936 to 1938, former slaves that accounted for over two thousand in seventeen different states were assessed by Works Progress Administration. He indicates that the interviewees in the Works Progress Administration gave in-depth details of the activities that took place in the plantations which involved direct matching of slave people, offering presents to fertility and using the male slaves to get pregnant more than one woman.

Smithers (2012) further illustrate the role the memory of sexual exploitation and the leadership of Jim Crow played in shaping the Civil rights. Leaders employed coercive and forceful means to slavery to confront the aspects of the past and bring changes to the future of the republic. Leaders like Martin Luther King Jr said the civil rights movements had a Christian aim to make it right for the history of Americans. Therefore, the crusade was not only about the struggle to attain equality in the political arena, but also was a platform for the Black community to preach their own historical background of slavery and the legacy with an emphasis on the physical, mental and sexual brutality which was vehemently opposed by the White narratives that purified slavery. Consequently, Smithers (2012) says that while the civil rights pioneers successfully put an end to segregation, the impact was minimal in compelling the Whites to listen to the lessons from the history of the Black.

The author did well in constructing a historical narrative on slavery by the White Progress Administration and the leaders of the African American and scholars from the start of the antebellum period. In these stories, the issue of slave breeding occurred as an activity to be disregarded, like in the case of most White historical tales and to be highlighted to aid in comprehending the ethnic violence, sexual assault and the outside forces that the black people were subjected to since slavery in black American historical tales. His interest in slave breeding as a strategy deployed by distinct electorates instead of the total lived experience resonates well with his objective of the narrative throughout the book.

However, the emphasis on slave breeding seems odd especially with his intention of focusing on the emotional part of the history of slave trade over commercial drop boxes that did not pay attention to the fact that slavery is still a fresh wound in contemporary America. If indeed slave breeding was so dominant and an emotional, then the experience of the Blacks being molested sexually as it relates to former slaves in the White narratives would have best illustrate his central concepts. Hence, Smithers would have paid more attention to the Blacks oral historical background to show the paramount importance of slave breeding to the black communitys memory of slavery. With this focus, it would be easier to believe that the experience of sexual exploitation would better serve the force and coercive nature that people grappled with in the emotional dimension of the past than the scholarly narratives written by the Black leaders as well as the intelligentsia between the Civil War and today. Introduction


Smithers, G. D. (2012). Slave breeding: sex, violence, and memory in African American History.

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