in the shadow of slavery

in the shadow of slavery


ChickenBones: A Journal

for  Literary & Artistic African-American  Themes



men’s experiences of slavery were not examined . . . attached to their roles as husbands,

fathers and sons. Although women’s historians have since made great strides in

understanding women’s experiences of slavery and the meaning of womanhood for slaves



In the Shadow Slavery

African Americans in New York City, 1623-1863

By Leslie M. Harris


“The black experience in the antebellum South has been thoroughly documented. But histories set in the North are few. In the Shadow of Slavery, then, is a big and ambitious book, one in which insights about race and class in new York City abound. Leslie Harris has masterfully brought over two centuries of African American history back to life in this illuminating new work.” David Roediger, author of The Wages of Whiteness

In 1991 in lower Manhattan, a team of construction workers made an astonishing discovery. Just two blocks from city hall, under twenty feet of asphalt, concrete, and rubble, lay the remains of an eighteenth-century “Negro Burial Ground.” Closed in 1790 and covered over by roads and buildings throughout the site turned out to be the largest such find in North America, containing the remains of as many as 20,000 African Americans. the graves revealed to New Yorkers and the nation an aspect of American history long hidden: the vast number of enslaved blacks who labored to create our nation’s largest city.

In the Shadow of Slavery lays bare this history of African Americans in New York, starting with the arrival of the first slaves in 1626, moving through the turbulent years before emancipation in 1827, and culminating in one of the most terrifying displays of racism in U.S. history, the New York City Draft Riots of 1863. Drawing on extensive travel accounts, autobiographies, newspapers, literature, and organizational records, Leslie M. Harris extends beyond prior studies of racial discrimination. She traces the undeniable impact of African Americans on class, politics, and community formation, offering vivid portraits of the lives and aspirations of countless black New Yorkers.

Written with clarity and grace, In the Shadows of Slavery is an ambitious new work that will prove indispensable to historians of the African American experience, as well as anyone interested in the history of New York City.

Publication Date: March 2003 —  The University of Chicago University Press

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I have focused my research efforts on exploring the history of pre-Civil War African Americans in the United States and their struggles to achieve freedom and racial equality. My work complicates the idea of a unified “black community” by examining how class and gender identities united and divided blacks’ efforts to achieve political equality. I demonstrate that issues of class, gender, and sexuality were crucial both to those who tried to argue for African-American racial inferiority, and for attempts by African Americans to define political strategies and racial identities that would enable them to achieve full political citizenship in the United States.

In the Shadow of Slavery

My first book, In the Shadow of Slavery, examines the impact of slavery and emancipation on class formation among blacks and whites in New York City. Between 1626 and the completion of emancipation in 1827, New York City contained the largest urban slave population outside of the South. The existence of slavery in New York had an indelible effect on the political, social, and economic institutions of the city. I outline the ways in which blacks’ varied responses to racism in New York and the continuation of southern slavery led to the formation of distinctive middle-class and working-class ideologies of political activism among blacks. I also examine white attitudes towards blacks in New York City, which were shaped by New York’s own history of slavery as well as the continuation of southern slavery.

The vast majority of whites excluded blacks from the political arena, and from equal opportunity in the economic arena. Thus, although blacks in the early 1800s viewed New York City as a place of freedom and opportunity, by the Civil War, the city had lost its promise for many blacks. The extreme violence of the Draft Riots of 1863 capped over two decades of dramatic decrease in New York’s black population. Using New York City as a case study, I demonstrate the ways in which both northern and southern slavery, northern emancipation, and racial identity influenced the construction of class and community for blacks and whites in the pre-Civil War United States.

Enchained Masculinity

My second research project, “Enchained Masculinity: African-American Men of the Slave South,” continues my exploration of the ways in which gender and sexual identities complicated racial identities for pre-Civil War African Americans. The idea for this book was inspired in large part by an undergraduate course I developed in 1997 entitled “Slavery in U.S. History and Culture.” In examining the historical literature available for the class, I realized that the literature on black men’s experiences of slavery was virtually non-existent. In the earlier historical literature of slavery, historians assumed men’s experiences as the normative slave experience.

Thus, men’s experiences of slavery were not examined as a gendered experience, with particular differences attached to their roles as husbands, fathers and sons. Although women’s historians have since made great strides in understanding women’s experiences of slavery and the meaning of womanhood for slaves, little has been done to explore the particular experience of men under slavery or slaves’ conception of manhood. Further, much of the recent historical literature on slave families has been written through the lens of women’s history, or through gender history that is seen as a simile for women’s history. Additionally, the historiography on masculinity in the United States is largely about white men.

By focusing on slave men’s roles between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War (1783-1861), I hope to bring the analytical tools of women’s and gender history to black men’s lived experience, and to remove black slave men from the realm of stereotype. I am particularly interested in the definitions of masculinity that grew out of the conflict between whites’ enslavement of and paternalist ideology towards blacks; and possible alternative models of masculinity, manhood, and patriarchy developed by slaves themselves, men and women.

These models of manhood within the slave community grew out of both Euro-American and African cultural influences, but were rooted in the conditions of slavery: forced labor; the threat to the family of separation by sale, and of sexual and physical abuse; and the efforts of slaveowners and white southern society generally to control the social and cultural lives of slaves. This examination of black men’s lives and black masculinity has a wider importance beyond academia. The general public continues to be interested in the legacy of slavery in current-day African-American gender relationships. Although a direct line cannot be drawn between the antebellum era and today’s black community, I hope that this project ultimately will intervene in the continuing debates over the ways in which history is used by the public.


Leslie M. Harris, Associate Professor, (B.A., Columbia University, 1988; M.A., Stanford University, 1989; Ph.D, 1995).  Pre-Civil War African-American Labor and Social History; New York City; Slavery; Southern History.  In the Shadow of Slavery:  African Americans in New York City, 1626-1863 (forthcoming 2002, University of Chicago Press).  “Enchained Masculinity:  African-American Men of the Slave South” (book project in process)

Bowden 332 Department of History Emory University Atlanta, GA 30322 404-727-5130 (Office) 404-727-4959 (Fax) (Email)


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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as “the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field ‘cut their teeth’.”

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The White Masters of the World

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 4 August 2008 




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