SLAVERY Slavery can best be described as an institution, state or condition under which certain human beings are held as the property or chattel of other human beings. Although human slavery has existed in various forms and at various times since the dawn of antiquity, most modern authorities agree that African American slavery in the United States was one of the most severe and dehumanizing examples of that institution on record. Considered somewhat less than human, black American slaves were exposed to a system of abject indignities which, in the long run, undermined their basic human dignity.
The overwhelming majority of field slaves in the South, for example, were "housed" in cramped, airless and crudely constructed shacks with little if any provision for security or sanitation. Fed poorly, it would not be an exaggeration to assume that most slaves were chronically hungry. More significant is the fact that the American slave regime prevented blacks from maintaining normal family relations. Strictly speaking, the black family did not technically exist in most cases. Denied the legal right to marry, the black slave family legally was nonexistent. Women were considered "breeders," while men were powerless to prevent slaveowners from beating or raping their "wives." This emasculation of the black male (who was never thought of as a man, but always as a "boy") was further compounded by the fact that slave families were often broken up when the slaveowner could profitably sell a portion of his chattel. Finally, the disciplinary authority of the slave-master over the slave was of absolute proportions. The slave-master literally enjoyed powers of life and death over the slave's body, despite legal technicalities which "protected" slaves from cruel and unusual punishment. See also: CHATTEL, DOMESTIC SERVANTS, FRACTIONAL HANDS, OVERSEER, PARTUS SEQUITUR VENTREM, PROSLAVERY RATIONALE, SAMBO STEREOTYPE, SLAVE CODES and SLAVE RESISTANCE.