Special Topics “Plantation Slavery”
Professor da Silva
Journal Article 2
April 24, 2013
“To See Who Was Best on the Plantation: Enslaved Fighting Contests and Masculinity in the Antebellum Plantation South”, written by Sergio Lussana, gives us insight into the life of those on Southern plantations from the male slave perspective. In comparison to the amount of information available on the role of women in slavery, there is surprising less information about men. This may be attributed to the fact that slave communities on plantations were matriarchal societies. Nevertheless, Lussana offers valuable information based largely on the accounts of former slave diaries.
The article focuses on the limited free time the slaves had, and how the time was spent. One of the major activities the men participated in was fighting; that is wrestling or boxing. While working, it is noted that the only opportunities men were given to show their physical strength was when they were engaging in sexual activities or while being treated as animals while engaging in especially physically demanding work. Slave fighting allowed men to have an identity different than that of slave owners and female slaves on the plantations. Fighting also allowed a man to earn a reputation for himself amongst other men, or even amongst other plantations. Fighting could also be seen as a sort of “bonding experience” for men. It allowed men to engage in an activity together, other than work, rather than simply talking.
The testimony of John Finnely, one slave of 75 on a cotton plantation, gave a good look at how the fights were organized on his plantation. John mentions that his plantation fought against other plantations, and that the men were matched against one another based on size and then bet upon. John then goes on to tell of one exceptional fighter by the name of Tom. John’s account mentions that slaves beat each other until they bled, and...