Slavery and the Making of AmericaPolitical caricature depicting black and white men and women interacting
Time and Place Slave Memories Resources The Slave Experience

The Slave Experience: Men, Women & Gender
Intro Historical Overview Character Spotlight Slave Clothing Personal Narratives Original Docs
The Clothes Make the Man, the Woman, and the Slave
Link to Gender Specific Clothing Link to The Power of a Uniform Link to Clothing for slave children Link to Dress that Oppressed and Clothing that Liberated Link to Nudity and the Captive Body Link to Slave Women and the Head-Wrap
Photo of an African-American man in a Union Army uniform
The Power of a Uniform

Many planters used a philosophy of paternalism to justify slavery. They imagined themselves as the fathers of slaves who needed to be cared for and guided. This way of thinking not only validated the master's ownership of slaves, but also his punishment of those in his custody. It was a system that disempowered all slaves, men and women, relegating them to the status of children.

Enslaved men who escaped to union lines and became soldiers gained a renewed sense of power. For the first time, they put on uniforms in wage earning jobs and were permitted to carry firearms. One ex-slave described the experience in this way:

"After the war started, I ran off and joined the army ... I was sent to Tullahoma for training. This was the biggest thing that ever happened in my life. I felt like a man, with a uniform on and a gun in my hand ..."

This slave's identity as an adult male was restored by his position as a soldier in the fight against slavery and was symbolized by his attire.

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