Conjuring Traditions of Resistance in Nineteenth Century Narratives of Slavery




Greathouse, Corey D.

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When William Grimes published his autobiographical slave narrative in 1825, he offered more than a detailed recollection of his self-emancipation from enslavement. His narrative also provides an account of the various conjuring acts as resistance that enslaved Black people engaged to counter the violence enacted by white enslavers. While enslaved Black people's engagements with conjuring acts grew from an exigency to survive the day-to-day atrocities of slavery, these conjuring acts also represent the retentions of African cultural practices and the development of pan-African identities. It is through the preservation of the traditions from their African cultures that developed out of modes of religion, spirituality, and folklore that various pan-African identities took shape. I suggest that by inscribing conjuring acts such as tricksterism and Hoodoo into their narratives, slave narrative authors reveal that there are numerous Africanisms that not only survived the Middle Passage but also shaped the resistance strategies of enslaved Black people and fostered cultural memory. Through their display of conjuring acts, William Grimes as well as authors such as Frederick Douglass, Henry Bibb, and Harriet Jacobs composed counternarratives that challenged the perceptions of the white status quo's attestations of Black people's inhumanity. Informed by the pan-African identities that manifested in the Atlantic world, they reaffirm ideas of Black humanity. In addition, the African diasporic practices (conjure) Black slave narrative authors capture in their texts remain present and ever evolving beyond nineteenth century writings.


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African American literature, Black autobiography, conjure, fugitive slave narratives, nineteenth century, pan-Africanism