Contemporary Slave Narratives

Today as in the 19th century, formerly enslaved people use their stories as tools for abolition.

Some tell their stories in order to raise general awareness of slavery today, others are seeking specific changes. Many contemporary slave narratives are explicit about the desire to effect change with story-telling. The texts are a form of protest literature. They are voices telling “a free story,” as William Andrews has written of 19th-century slave narrators. Now as in the 19th century, the narrators are engaged in a process of self-making. They make themselves subjects of a story instead of objects for sale, and assert their humanity in the wake of dehumanising treatment.

Please read a selection of contemporary narratives. You can also listen to the audio recordings that appear on the site if you prefer.

After reading or listening to the narratives, please note in the comment section any antislavery ideas that you can identify in the stories. Do the voices of enslaved people themselves contain suggestions for ending slavery? If not explicitly, than can we identify ideas for antislavery action simply in the accounts of their lives? Are there structures that would have meant their enslavement was prevented, or would have ended their enslavement sooner? Are there any patterns to how these individuals ended up enslaved, and how they became free? What do these life stories tell us about the best methods for tackling slavery?

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This article is from the free online course:

Ending Slavery: Strategies for Contemporary Global Abolition

The University of Nottingham