Racial Slavery, Marronage & Freedom: A 10th Anniversary Retrospective Exhibition
09/22/2022 to 12/31/2022
Center for the Study of Slavery & Justice
Racial Slavery, Marronage & Freedom:
A Different Story of Freedom
There is a different story of human freedom other than the conventional ones told to us. In the conventional story of freedom, freedom is sometimes an ideal; other times it is connected to individual choice and then sometimes it is understood as a negative kind of freedom – a freedom from. All these versions of freedom primarily focus on politics, or our capacity to purchase a consumer good. But there is another kind of freedom, one which emerged from racial slavery: Black freedom.
Historical sociologists tell us that in Western society the ideas and practices of freedom emerged in Greek slave society. One central meaning of this freedom was the right to participate in political life. Over time in the West, this idea became dominant and within the framework of the American and French revolutions in the 18th century, the dominant idea of freedom was linked to that of political liberty. Just recall all the talk and proclamations about liberty during the American Revolution. None of it was meant for the enslaved Africans nor the dispossessed Indigenous population. Then the prevailing idea of “slavery” for the white male settler was a lack of political equality, not the racial slavery nor indentured servitude of the Indigenous population. Let’s just recall Stephen Hopkins’ best-selling pamphlet at the time, Rights of the Colonies Examined, in which he argued for political independence and political equality (right to vote) but was silent about the system of racial slavery. So, the constitutive grounds for the making of America was racial slavery, Indian genocide and dispossession. We cannot think of the historical significances and meanings of America today without recognizing these historical grounds. Yet, if the dominant idea and practices of freedom in the Americas were linked to ideas of political liberty and then economic choice, there was another, a distinctive idea and practice which emerged from the enslaved African population in the Americas.