Resistance & Rebellion

Resistance & Rebellion

Transcript below

This exhibition begins with examples of enslaved people’s resistance and rebellion. Their actions-- running away, fighting back on slave ships and in the Atlantic World, establishing maroon communities-- most shocked and alerted the world to the injustices and inhumanity of the slavetrade and slavery as it existed across the Atlantic World.

It should be noted that abolitionists argued mightily over the use of violence and force. Some felt that fighting back and being otherwise belligerent in everyday interactions would only support enslavers and other pro-slavery individuals’ arguments that slavery was beneficial because it tamed and educated so-called “primitive” people of African descent. 

Smaller forms of resistance, too, were important as they kept enslavers on their toes and gave enslaved people some sense of power and control over their lives.


Examples of overt (open and obvious) resistance include fighting back, talking back to enslavers and other plantation authorities, and running away.


Examples of covert (subversive, secret, clandestine) resistance include working slowly, breaking tools, stealing clothing and food, and arson.


About the importance of resistance, the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass remarked in his 1857 speech “West India Emancipation,” which was given on the occasion of the twenty-third anniversary of the American Abolition Society:


“This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. In light of these ideas, Negroes will be hunted at the North and held and flogged at the South so long as they submit to those devilish outrages and make no resistance, either moral or physical. Men may not get all they pay for in this world, but they must certainly pay for all they get. If we ever get free from the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal.” 


End of Transcript

Installation Image by Roy Rochlin. Latimer/Edison Gallery, Schomburg Center