Saturday, June 07, 2008

The (Not) Silent Slave

Been absurdly busy getting settled in lovely Chapel Hill. This week I had the pleasure of riding a bus home from work (and it's free, no less!); haven't been able to do that since I left Honolulu a few years ago. And I'm getting used to this most friendly town--what an unexpected pleasure to run into an old friend and now colleague at the Weaver Street Market at lunch the other day. And once I get a little more settled I hope to talk some about my "new urbanist" experience. But right now I have something else to talk about--silence and slaves....

So I understand that Silent Sam's a key monument on the UNC campus. I'm looking forward to spending a lot of time around his statue and elsewhere on the campus. However, these days I'm interested in other antebellum (or maybe in the case of Mr. Sam, bellum) characters who are often silent, though perhaps not quite so silent as Sam: slaves in southern literature. One piece of University, Court, and Slave looks to the ways that slaves are silenced in court--they're rarely permitted to testify. I'm interested in this because it seems such an obvious corruption of seeking truth--but there's a larger purpose that's served by the silence.

But what about slaves who speak in southern literature? We hear a lot from Uncle Tom. And in some of the southern responses we hear from slaves as well--like Mary Eastman's Aunt Phillis' Cabin. But what about Beverly Tucker's obscure novel George Balcombe? The last line of the novel comes from a slave, who testifies to the love of Mr. Balcombe: "We been all mighty willing, sir, to have Mass' George for master." Wow--putting words of testimony to Mr. Balcombe into the mouths of the enslaved. Mighty interesting stuff--monuments and slaves who speak intermittently.

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