Growing Up A Slave

Justine Decker

November 20th, 2015

Intro to African American Studies

Blog Post #1


The Cultural artifact I have chosen is a photograph of slave children during the time of slavery. This image shows a row of Black children sitting on a porch most likely when their parents are out in the fields or fathers (if they live in the home), may be hired out away from the plantation. I also am concluding that the one holding the small child in her lap is in charge of watching over these children, unless someone taking the photograph is watching them. I have looked through rows of pictures and this particular photograph sparked my interest because all of the children seem to have scowls on their faces and that saddened me though (Although it could be sun in their eyes).

The significance of this picture to me is that I have been enthralled in the lives of slave children since learning many things about their experiences in slavery. I never learned about the experiences of children during slavery only about men and sometimes women in slavery. A lot of what I did learn about men and women was far from the truth. Slave children weren’t cared for during the day as they should’ve been. They weren’t provided warm enough clothing usually, and that they weren’t cared for medically or physically. This is a hard pill for me to swallow.

I selected this photograph because it illustrates for me inadequate care of children (slave or not). Though I can only speculate, this photograph shows me a child caring for many small children. I see grown faces staring back at me that are hardened from the loss of a childhood and nurturance they won’t be able to receive. I see Black children who aren’t getting enough to eat to fully help their brain develop but who will be called dumb when they get older. I see Black children who cannot laugh and play as children do because of the color of their skin and that’s why I chose this picture because it spoke to me. In Dunaway’s book there is a quote from a former slave child who said “I knew I was a slave,” she said, “after I got big enough to know that I couldn’t do the things that I wanted to do” (72).

The producer of this photograph is a student of Professor Lauren Klein who attached this photo to the class wordpress blog that other students, from what it looks like, have added comments to. Lauren Klein is an assistant professor who has her Ph.D. and has attended schools such as Harvard and the City University of New York. She does research and her “interests include early American literature and culture, food studies, media studies, and the digital humanities.” (Klein, Lauren).

Upon doing some research I have found articles she’s written about the lack of use of technology in education. She also wrote about awareness adoptive parents or foster parents must have when placing these kids in a school in their new neighborhoods because a lot of times they are more challenging or ahead of their previous schools. She is very interested and researches race and identity as well as slavery; hence the reason I believe her student posted the picture of the slave children I used for this blog. The student spoke about reading an excerpt by Frederick Douglas where he spoke of his experience growing up in slavery which pushed her to further research slave children’s experiences.

This cultural product or time period was significant to African Americans because this is a photograph of their children whom they loved and cared about despite white people’s belief that they didn’t. Dunaway explains that “Appalachian maters stereotyped slaves as weaker beings who did not establish the same kinds of family bonds or loyalties as whites” (53). This picture is important because it shows young children who have no shoes or socks on to keep their feet warm or protected from what could be on the ground. This photo shows children wearing thin dresses or a shirt that couldn’t possibly keep them warm in the winter. This picture signifies the treatment of Black slaves from the time they are born. This time period which was the treatment of slaves from beginning to end, was what slave parents had to endure and accept when it pertained to their children.

This picture is also very important to its time period because it shows the very contrasting view to how black families act when it pertains to their children now. During that time period black parents were not allowed to care for their children when they were ill and stay home with them. Black slave parents were also not allowed to decide the punishments that would be rendered to their children for doing something the master or mistress did not like. In “The African-American Family in Slavery and Emancipation” Dunaway wrote “[F]ather and mother could not save me from punishment, as they themselves had to submit to the same treatment” (75).

A lot of Black children in America today do get whooped for wrong doing or behavior their parents don’t approve of where as white children seem to typically not have that same upbringing. I don’t know if this stems back from slavery and how black slave parents would often whoop their children so they’d act accordingly and so they wouldn’t have to get whipped by master. Dunaway explains that “childhood mischief brought severe punishment from masters” (71). Black parents today are more often in defense of anything that happens at the school where administration is having an issue with their child. I believe this stems from the systematic racism that schools continue to show and the alarming disproportion of suspensions and expelling of black students in comparison to white students. White America still reduces the worth of Black children.

Dunaway informs the readers that “most young Appalachian slave girls, and some boys, lost their own childhoods to tend to their masters’ offspring” (73). Slave children were constantly doing for others while little to no care was given to them from their parents (from being unable to) nor from the slave masters. Slave masters weren’t concerned with their feelings, well-being, or providing slave children with a happy childhood where they’re able to live care free like the master’s children. All of the children in the attached photo are too young to care for themselves or to know what not to get into or experiment with because that is human nature children learn through trial and error. These children’s errors resulted is severe punishment or getting extremely hurt if not being watched.

I’ve already mentioned things that I’ve learned in this course but there are many others that relate this photo to the course. The first one that’s very important is that children under slavery were the most likely to be sold, “one-half of all slave sales involved the separation of children from their parents” (Dunaway, Wilma 63). Another thing I’d like to further elaborate on that I already pointed out is my belief that what looks to be the young girl on the porch holding the smaller child is caring for these children or possibly just the one on her lap. This is very significant because in class we learned that very often children did not have any type of child care while their parents were out at work all day. Not having child care was very hazardous for obvious reasons, children roam and experiment and often times would get hurt even some resulting in death by easily preventable matters. Dunaway says that “nearly one-fifth of Appalachian slave children were left alone during the work day, and another 15 percent were left to play with older siblings (who themselves were ten or younger)” (71).

Dunaway provides clear examples of the horrible childhood slave children had to endure. Including beginning to work at very young ages. Dunaway found that a woman named “Lizzie Grant had no happy memories of her childhood and goes on to say, “Our home life as children was hell, as we never had any playtime at all. From the time we could walk Mistress had us carrying in wood and water and we did not know what it was to get out and romp and play” (73). Examples such as this show the clear mistreatment of slave children and strengthen the reason I feel the photograph I chose shows grown faces staring back at me scowling who were stripped of love, nurturance, and their childhood.



slave children


 Works Cited


Dunaway, Wilma A. The African-American Family in Slavery and Emancipation. New York: Maison Des Sciences De L’homme/Cambridge UP, 2003. Print. Studies in Modern Capitalism.

Klein, Laura. Georgia Institute of Technology, 2015. Web Source.

—. Child in, 2014. Web Source.



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