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The Mark of SlaveryDisability, Race, and Gender in Antebellum America$
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Jenifer L. Barclay

Print publication date: 2021

Print ISBN-13: 9780252043727

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: September 2021

DOI: 10.5622/illinois/9780252043727.001.0001

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Disability, Embodiment, and Slavery in the Old South

Disability, Embodiment, and Slavery in the Old South

(p.13) 1 Disability, Embodiment, and Slavery in the Old South
The Mark of Slavery

Jenifer L. Barclay

University of Illinois Press

Centering on disabled people’s experiences of complex embodiment under slavery, this chapter highlights the shifting boundaries of “unsoundness.” Enslaved people experienced congenital disabilities but also acquired impairments as a result of labor accidents, punishments, and aging. Bondpeople were valuable “property” as laborers and potential reproducers of future generations of slaves, so the condition of their bodies and minds were central to slaveholders’ pursuit of economic gain. This emphasis on sound bodies and minds dominated the historical record left by slaveholders and, in turn, shaped scholarship about the institution. Clinical and detached assessments of “slave health” and assumptions about labor potential obscure the point that many people navigated a lifetime of enslavement with various disabilities.

Keywords:   acquired impairment, accidents, aging, complex embodiment, congenital disability, punishments, slave health, unsoundness

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