Slave Fighting in the Old South
By Sergio Lussana
For many years, anecdotal evidence suggested that slaves on southern plantations engaged in wrestling or fighting matches. The publication of the slave interviews collected by the Federal Writers Project of the Works Progress Administration finally confirmed what had long been only suspected: the matches actually occurred. These first-hand accounts prove that in Alabama and throughout the South, slave fighting transpired often and for many reasons, offering the enslaved men a chance to prove their masculinity, settle disagreements, and sometimes even add to their owners’ profits. The events became a central part of a plantation’s social life, and they were both celebratory and recreational—even as they expressed another facet of the violence of slavery.
For more about slave fighting, the author suggests the following books:
Blight, David W. (ed.), A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom: Including Their Own Narratives of Emancipation (New York: Harcourt, 2007).
Desch Obi, T. J., Fighting for Honor: The History of African Martial Art Traditions in the Atlantic World (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2008).
Lussana, Sergio, “To See Who Was Best on the Plantation: Enslaved Fighting Contests and Masculinity in the Antebellum Plantation South,” Journal of Southern History, 76:4 (November, 2010), pp. 901–22.
Rawick, George P. (ed.), The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography, 41 vols. plus index (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1972–79).
Seller, James Benson, Slavery in Alabama (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1994).
About the Author
Sergio Lussana completed his PhD in history at the University of Warwick in 2011. He is currently visiting lecturer at Royal Holloway University of London. His dissertation explored the ways in which enslaved men of the antebellum South negotiated masculine identities, formed friendships, and resisted their enslavement. He has written an article for the Journal of Southern History, and his article on enslaved male friendship and resistance is scheduled for publication in the 2013 issue of the Journal of Social History. He is coeditor of Black and White Masculinity in the American South, 1800–2000 (2009).