My Own Master: Resistance to American Slavery

This exhibition explores how enslaved African Americans, helped by their free and freed counterparts, challenged slavery’s governance over their bodies and lives. Some such efforts are widely known, such as ingenious escapes and wide-scale insurrections. Other, more subtle forms of revolt are less familiar, such as cases of free blacks emancipating other blacks, or examples of a slave deftly manipulating her owners’ actions in written correspondence. Published memoirs and manifestoes by free Blacks and escaped slaves alike were themselves wielded as powerful rhetorical weapons in the fight for freedom.

Drawing from the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library’s rich holdings, this exhibition complements our other current exhibition, “Who shall tell the story?: Voices of Civil War Virginia,” extending the story of the defeat of slavery backwards several decades and foregrounding the transformative actions of enslaved individuals and communities.