SLAVE RESISTANCE Modern historians disagree as to the validity of the traditional stereotype of docile, tractable and happy-go-lucky black slaves in the antebellum South. Stanley Elkins, for example, has maintained that Afro-American slaves were more or less brainwashed and, as a result, the "Sambo" stereotype does contain an element of truth. Notwithstanding the Elkins thesis, it cannot be denied that slaves could and did develop certain patterns of resistance and protest. As John Hope Franklin has written, resistance "has been found wherever the institution of slavery existed, and Negro slavery in the United States was no exception."
Forms of resistance and protest varied widely. Some slaves deliberately loafed on the job, while others feigned illness in the fields or on the auction block. Sabotage, including arson and the destruction of farm tools, self-mutilation and suicide on the part of slaves was not uncommon and certainly indicative of a degree of resistance. Physical attacks upon and the killing of slaveowners by slaves, though not everyday occurrences, were not unheard of. Using arsenic or finely ground glass, many "domestic" slaves slowly but surely ended the lives of their masters. Additionally, the fact that large numbers of slaves escaped or at least attempted to escape testifies not only to the harshness of the slave system itself, but also to the slave's resistance to that system. The ultimate form of slave protest and resistance, of course, involved conspiratorial attempts to organize mass rebellions. See also: SAMBO STEREOTYPE and SLAVE CONSPIRACIES.