By focusing on resistance, educators reveal as false the myth that slavery was a benign institution and that enslavers were fundamentally kind.
If either were true, the enslaved would not have resisted.
“I have adventured my life in endeavoring to obtain the liberty of my countrymen, and am a willing sacrifice in their cause.” Rebellion, though, was not the only way that enslaved African Americans fought back.
Their resistance took many forms, from highly visible attempts to flee bondage, to nearly imperceptible acts of sabotage and subterfuge.
As long as slavery existed, African Americans resisted.
Teaching resistance effectively requires focusing on more than a handful of highly visible and extremely dramatic attempts to secure freedom. Uprisings make clear that African Americans who engaged in rebellion opposed slavery.
In 1800, an enslaved blacksmith named Gabriel, who lived and worked near Richmond, plotted to topple the Old Dominion’s slaveholding regime.
Gabriel planned to lead a group of armed rebels to Richmond to seize the state capital.
Highlighting resistance also renders African Americans’ humanity plain to see.
African Americans fought back because they refused to accept their lot in life.