Historical injustices of slavery left an indelible mark on the muscle memory of the nation. Reflections of these horrific events have been achieved through various forms including movies and documentaries that encapsulate the slavery history: the initial kidnapping and sale, dehumanizing effects of slavery, anger and frustration of losing family and freedom, the endurance of abusive treatment, and the struggle for freedom. The events of the slavery regime are also well expressed in the narratives of the victims. Charlie Smith, an ex-slave, narrated his experience from capture to post freedom.
Speaking to Elmer Sparks, the 44-year-old Charlie Smith revealed that Africans were lured into boats by being told they will not work once they reach the destined country (Library of Congress). While onboard, his fellow Blacks threatened to throw him overboard to be swallowed by fish “like Jonah”. Charlie expressed deep disappointment towards his fellow Black men for subjecting him to torture. The boats stopped at New Orleans where the captured individuals were sold as slaves to the highest bidders. Smith recalled, “They would put you on a stage. The man would buy you. The highest bidder gets you.” (Library of Congress). Charlie said he landed in the hands of a man who took him to take care of his cattle. Charlie recalled how he took the cattle to the fields alongside other White boys. Despite being the only colored cowboy, his owner treated him well, and even after slaves were freed, he did not leave his master’s house. Charlie also said that he did not leave his master’s home even after his (master) death. This illustrates the healthy relationship Charlie and his owner had.
Smith’s narrative has changed my perspective on slavery. I have always believed that all slave owners subjected their captives to different forms of abuse. Although Smith’s story puts a positive spin on slavery narratives, the editing of such stories has been claimed to be manipulated to portray a fairer image of slavery (Onion). On the other hand, some interviewees would deliberately exaggerate events to gain the favor of those interviewing them (Library of Congress). Such claims invalidate ex-slave testimonies.
Smith’s narrative paints a different picture from the traditional slavery narrative. His master treated him equally as his children and he chose to stay with him after the slavery abolition. Such testimonies, however, have been claimed to be tainted by interviewers’ manipulation or the interviewees’ exaggeration.
Library of Congress. “Interview with Charlie Smith, Bartow, Florida, March 17, 1975”. Library of Congress. 17 March 1975. https://www.loc.gov/item/afc1975023_afs17510/. 16 July 2019.
Library of Congress. “Limitations of the Slave Narrative Collection”. Library of Congress. 1938. https://www.loc.gov/collections/slave-narratives-from-the-federal-writers-project-1936-to-1938/articles-and-essays/introduction-to-the-wpa-slave-narratives/limitations-of-the-slave-narrative-collection/. 16 July 2019.
Onion, Rebecca. “Is the Greatest Collection of Slave Narratives Tainted by Racism?” Slate. 6 July 2016. http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/history/2016/07/can_wpa_slave_narratives_be_trusted_or_are_they_tainted_by_depression_era.html. 16 July 2019.