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Strategies for Survival

Recollections of Bondage in Antebellum Virginia
William Dusinberre

BUY Cloth · 264 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813928227 · $45.00 · Aug 2009
BUY Ebook · 264 pp. · ISBN 9780813928364 · $45.00 · Aug 2009

Strategies for Survival conveys the experience of bondage through the words of former slaves themselves. The interviews—conducted in Virginia in 1937 by WPA interviewers—are considered among the most valuable of the WPA interviews because in Virginia the interviewers were almost all African Americans; thus the interviewees almost certainly spoke more frankly than they would otherwise have done. Dusinberre uses the interviews to assess the strategies by which slaves sought to survive, despite the severe constrictions bondage imposed upon their lives. Religion and escape were common means of coping with the indignity of family disruption, contempt, and the harsh realities of slavery. However, while Dusinberre recognizes the creativity and variety of slaves' responses to oppression, he acknowledges the dispiriting realities of the limits of slave resistance and agency.


With Strategies for Survival William Dusinberre solidifies his reputation as one of our finest historians of southern slavery. His unusually sensitive reading of interviews with Virginia's ex-slaves returns us to basic questions, but offers startling fresh answers. Like his classic study of slavery on the rice plantations, Strategies for Survival will quickly become a must-read for all students of antebellum American history.

James Oakes, author of Slavery and Freedom: An Interpretation of the Old South

This remarkable study of antebellum Virginia slavery displays all the qualities we have come to expect from William Dusinberre— impeccable research, creative questioning, elegant writing, and persuasive interpretations. This is a major contribution from a major historian.

Charles Joyner, author of Down By the Riverside: A South Carolina Slave Community

About the Author(s): 

William Dusinberre, Reader in History, Emeritus, at the University of Warwick in England, is the author of Slavemaster President: The Double Career of James Polk, Henry Adams: The Myth of Failure (Virginia) and the award-winning Them Dark Days: Slavery in the American Rice Swamps.

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