myths laid to rest

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Myths Laid to Rest:
Death, Burial, and Memory in the American South
The performance of distinctive rituals associated with the burial of the dead establishes a basis for the creation not only of a cultural identity, but also of communal memory. For the enslaved population in the antebellum South, the burial of fellow slaves provided a means of cultural expression. Nonetheless, funeral services for deceased slaves created a source of contention between slaves and slave owners—not simply because Southern whites sought complete control over the actions of their slaves, but because of the deep-seated cultural differences that resulted from the transatlantic transfer and appropriation of disparate traditions. The presence of African-based burial rituals in slave funeral services appeared strange and pagan to white commentators. Even though American-born slaves adopted Anglicized burial practices over time, shifting the rituals away from African-based traditions, Southern whites continued to view slave funerals as barbaric in nature. The perceptions of these traditions, in turn, fed into the creation of myths surrounding the institution of slavery. By producing myths of grand slave funerals and bereaved masters, Southern whites used mortuary rituals to reinforce constructed memories of benevolence. Examining the narratives of both Southern whites and former slaves highlights contrasting perceptions, which in turn reveal how the act of burying the dead helped create the mythical idealization of life on the Southern plantation.
The performance of distinctive rituals associated with the burial of the dead establishes a basis for the creation not only of a cultural identity, but also of communal memory. For the enslaved population in the antebellum South, the burial of fellow slaves provided a means of cultural expression. Nonetheless, funeral services for deceased slaves created a source of contention between slaves and slave owners—not simply because Southern whites

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