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Chapter 4 examines the obstacles enslaved women faced in escaping bondage in post-Revolutionary America. The case of Elizabeth Freeman, an enslaved Black woman in Massachusetts who sued for her freedom, captures the tenacity of Black women, who not only resisted with their feet, but also used the courts to gain their freedom. By highlighting the case of Ona Judge, the fugitive slave of George and Martha Washington, this chapter brings to the fore successful escapes in which enslaved women overcame formidable obstacles to freedom. During the post-Revolutionary period, Bett and other enslaved women developed several strategies for overcoming obstacles to freedom. As daughters, mothers, and wives, they contested oppression and invented solutions that defied their status as enslaved women.
This chapter scrutinizes early frontispieces contained within books by Phillis Wheatley and Olaudah Equiano and then proceeds to examine the illustrated antislavery books of Moses Roper and Henry Bibb (both of which also contain frontispieces as well as other types of illustrations). Although Roper’s book was published in 1837 and Bibb’s in 1849, this chapter argues that both men (being born in 1815 and having participated in the antislavery movement) were responding to the abject treatment of the enslaved in earlier antislavery materials. The words of the text interact with its visual optic to interpellate the reader and envision a figurative mode of agency and self-possession for the enslaved body and the freed Black subject. The chapter concludes with a forward glance at artworks by Kara Walker and Glen Ligon that also attempt to excavate (although in a more abstract way) the trace of a resistant visual tradition within African American literature and US visual culture.
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