Life in Black and White, is a great book about the Southern society in the antebellum period focussing on the daily life in Loundoun County, Virginia, tracing the lives of all classes and cultures. For years, many historians have argued that most slave families in the American antebellum south were, despite many and certain circumstances upon them, traditional nuclear families. The author, Brenda E. Stevenson, challenged numerous reviews and ideas of the nature of slave families relations and ways of life. She examines the whole Southern society through the families of all races. In this process the book offers an unprecedented look at the daily lives of different communities such as the slaves, planters, free blacks, and yeoman farmers. Most importantly she gives us the opportunity to see the social and cultural forces which bond them together, even while driving them apart.
Stevenson provides a perfect portrait of family and community life in the American South bringing in stories and quotes of planters, slaves, free blacks, and poor whites, in the mid-18th century to the Civil War. These stories give strong evidence on the hardships of life for both blacks and whites. For instance, in chapter 6, The Nature of Loudoun Slavery, owners would sell certain slaves for financial reasons, masters most readily sold slaves as punishment or a mean of control. An ex-slave explains what some masters would say to discipline or threaten to sell them down South.
He come .down to the quarters. Pick out de fam ly dat got de most chillun an say, Fo God, nigger, I m goin to sell all dem chillun o your n lessen you keep quiet. Dat threat was a worsen prospects of alickin. Ev ybody sho keep quiet arter dat ( Stevenson, 179).
Slave life was emphasized of labor and discipline. The workload was merle physical punishment in itself, but all slaves were always afraid of being sold to the South so they stayed strong to endure the hardships of slavery. With this style of context Stevenson persuades the reader to actually visualize the lives of many enslaved blacks and the difficult times when families were separated from the slave market. In reading this chapter it forever changes your understanding of the relationship between a master and a slave. She grabs the reader as soon as they start reading the first line of the chapter. Something that Stevenson uses in introducing her chapters that makes her argument and work so compelling is the usage of quotes before the chapter. In chapter 6, she uses a quote from a Loudoun slave named George Johnson introducing The Nature of Loudon Slavery.
We went to work at sunrise, and quit work between sundown and dark. Some were sold from my master s farm, and many from the neighborhood. If a man did anything out of the way, he was more in danger of being sold than of being whipped. Us slaves were always afraid of being sold South (Stevenson, 166).
She uses this not only in the sections of Black Life, Family, and Community, but in the White Community: Patterns of Settlement, Development, and Conflict section. The value of the book is derived from a panoramic portrait of family and community life in the American South.
In reading this book there were not many instances were Stevenson had a weak argument, but one section comes to mind to be non-important in the evaluation of life in the South. Her underlying assumptions in some areas of the book made her ideas not clear. For instance, Stevenson devotes two chapters to the challenges and regularities of marriage, marital bond, and the conflict between financial success. The following chapters of Gender Convention and Courtship and Marriage for Better or Worse were to lengthy in description. Stevenson fails a couple of times to convince the reader why such issues make these problems unique to the South. It does give an adequate description of family life, but it tends to draw the reader away from learning about the real differences amongst white communities and black communities. Furthermore, in these chapters there tends to be an interesting social analysis of the South that focuses a bit much on the psychological aspects of southern life without telling the reader why they are valuable to the time period. Other than this part of the book there is not any other areas that were unconvincing.
After completion of the book I gained new insights into social life in the American South. There was a lot of information and facts that I have not learned. Such as the growing opportunity for spirited recreation and spiritual richness. Ordinaries and churches emerged in the late colonial period as the centers of social activity (Stevenson, 23). Other recreational avenues were also considered. Some of these activities were card playing, cock fighting, fist fights, shooting, wood chopping, tobacco spitting, riding contests, and story telling were typical past times for men and some women in the White Community. For the Black community every Sunday they would hold these dances at the plantation to relieve their frustrations and be free-spirited with their people. Especially, Sunday was their only day to have for themselves. The Blacks made this day a community day. After evaluating that interesting point that Stevenson made builds on the idea and reason why Blacks take Sundays very seriously with church. It is a day of togetherness, and in that era their Black community was all that they had. Evidence on family and communities in the slave south that Stevenson illustrates makes the reader what to learn more and more about the ways life was in the era.
According to the Stelmachowicz Book Review, Life in Black and White, receives four stars out of four for its insightful, innovative, and moving stories offering our most detailed portrait of the reality of life in the South. Every single person should read this book whether you are black or white to learn how our ancestors lived and prospered in the 18th century. This book is a compelling survey of Southern society in the daily lives in one Virginia county. It is for all the reasons that I happily submit this recommendation of this book without reservation.