CHAPTER 1 RESISTING OL’ MASSA: MODES OF SLAVE DEFIANCE He is whipped oftenest who is whipped easiest, and that slave who has the courage to stand up for himself against the overseer, although he may have many hard stripes at the fi rst, becomes in the end a free- man, even though he sustain the formal relation of a slave. —Frederick Douglass Wtives orking for the Underground Railroad was an act of civil dis- obedience. But riding on it was a form of slave defi ance. Fugi- who ran for freedom and eventually wound up traveling along Underground Railroad routes defi ed their servitude by “stealing” themselves from their owners. In doing so, they not only resisted their personal enslavement, but also challenged the entire institution and ethos of slavery. One source of confusion about the Underground Railroad is the myth that African American slaves were so passive and submissive that they lacked the will or courage to rebel against their servitude. But this ignores several indisputable facts: overwhelmingly the slaves themselves initi- ated their run for freedom, ex-slaves were active in Northern abolition- ist societies, and fugitives were some of the most daring and dedicated Underground Railroad agents. It also overlooks the fact that blacks who remained in slavery regularly exercised modes of resistance that defi ed their servitude in a number of ways. It’s undeniable that the institution of slavery created a climate of op- pression that encouraged docile obedience. But it’s also true that many slaves routinely defi ed their masters’ authority. Most often, the resistance
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