Closer to Freedom

Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South

By Stephanie M. H. Camp

224 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 15 illus., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5534-8
    Published: September 2004
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-7576-6
    Published: October 2005

Gender and American Culture

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Awards & distinctions

2005 Lillian Smith Book Award for New Voices in Non-Fiction, Southern Regional Council

Honorable Mention, 2005 John Hope Franklin Prize, American Studies Association

Recent scholarship on slavery has explored the lives of enslaved people beyond the watchful eye of their masters. Building on this work and the study of space, social relations, gender, and power in the Old South, Stephanie Camp examines the everyday containment and movement of enslaved men and, especially, enslaved women. In her investigation of the movement of bodies, objects, and information, Camp extends our recognition of slave resistance into new arenas and reveals an important and hidden culture of opposition.

Camp discusses the multiple dimensions to acts of resistance that might otherwise appear to be little more than fits of temper. She brings new depth to our understanding of the lives of enslaved women, whose bodies and homes were inevitably political arenas. Through Camp's insight, truancy becomes an act of pursuing personal privacy. Illegal parties ("frolics") become an expression of bodily freedom. And bondwomen who acquired printed abolitionist materials and posted them on the walls of their slave cabins (even if they could not read them) become the subtle agitators who inspire more overt acts.

The culture of opposition created by enslaved women's acts of everyday resistance helped foment and sustain the more visible resistance of men in their individual acts of running away and in the collective action of slave revolts. Ultimately, Camp argues, the Civil War years saw revolutionary change that had been in the making for decades.

About the Author

Stephanie M. H. Camp is associate professor of history at the University of Washington, Seattle.
For more information about Stephanie M. H. Camp, visit the Author Page.

Reviews

"Deepens our understanding of resistance as both an individual and collective endeavor. [Camp] argues forcefully. . . . Intriguing and interesting."--The Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"Wonderfully evocative. . . . A provocative book full of astonishing, sometimes unforgettable moments."--Virginia Magazine

"Very readable yet analytically sophisticated. . . . Camp seamlessly integrates a wide array of sources . . . into an engaging book that does more than recount women's experiences as slaves in the plantation South. . . . An excellent study of bondwomen and a penetrating look at the rival geographies created by enslaved people."-Journal of Southern History

"An appealing and creative approach to understanding everyday slave resistance."--Southern Historian

“This slim volume makes a substantial and often ingenious contribution to slavery studies and to women’s and southern history. Taking pleasure seriously, studying space without getting trapped in the ‘public versus private’ debate, finding new information in much-mined sources, and complicating our knowledge of enslaved women’s resistance are valuable in themselves. They are also potent hints at what Camp and those who follow her lead will accomplish in the coming years.”--American Historical Review

"Camp's creative and elegant work reinforces the interconnectedness of North and South, slave and free, in the lives of enslaved people."--Signs