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Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves…

Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made

by Eugene D. Genovese

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688522,044 (3.91)9
A profound, learned and detailed analysis of Negro slavery. It covers an incredible range of topics and offers fresh insights on nearly every page ... the author's great gift is his ability to penetrate the minds of both slaves and masters, revealing not only how they viewed themselves and each other, but also how they contradictory perceptions interacted.… (more)
Recently added byTomWhitaker, private library, ebickerstaff, Sarah1974, franklubatti, mhearing, charlesj12, knittingashley
Legacy LibrariesRalph Ellison



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This is an interesting book, except for the fact that Genovese gives both sides of the argument and comes down squarely on each side.
He has obviously read and reviewed every diary or comment by any slaveholder, and any slave who gave an interview, and some of the evidence, for example how these slaves could have obtained skills, is worthwhile. The Marxist slant, such as it is, does not condemn the book. JPH ( )
  annbury | Jan 23, 2012 |
I think the book could have been better organized. I felt like it started at the end talking about slaves leaving the plantations after the Civil War then going back to the history of paternalism among slaves. It made the first part very boring. Once I was into the history and the relational dynamics, I liked the book. It is very long, but it is a worthwhile read.

I will say it was wonderful to have gone through The Well-Educated Mind book list prior to this book (it is one of the last on the list). I had read Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, Up from Slavery, Souls of Black Folk, Native Son, Song of Solomon, Invisible Man, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Uncle Tom's Cabin, Battle Cry of Freedom, and poetry of Langston Hughes, Rita Dove, and the incredible Paul Laurence Dunbar (my favorite American poet!). It gave me a good foundation for reading Roll, Jordan, Roll because he references many of these books in his work. ( )
1 vote Carolfoasia | Aug 23, 2011 |
Genovese's is an account of slavery based upon a class-based system of dominance, reinforced by racism (p. 3). Dominance, he stresses, is not as complete as earlier historians thought. Slaves themselves limited the extent to which whites exercised dominance, for example by developing African-American religion (p. 6).

Another source of resistance was embedded in the very relationship between overseer and slaves (p. 21). The slave might take their grievances to the master directly when treated badly by the master. Though they might be beaten for this. the end result was usually better treatment. Also the overseer was constrained as to the lengths he could go to in inflicting brutal punishment by the need to maintain morale in order to keep slave production high. A good crop meant that overseer kept his job (p. 15).

Another source of slave resistance stemmed from the ambiguities of the southern legal system (p. 28). The ambiguity existed primarily in this: slaves commit crimes against whites from time to time, if they are to be held accountable for this they must be judged to have wills (i.e., they must have a moral personality), and if they have wills they are human beings, so how can this be squared with chattel slavery? The result of this vicious circle was that masters appeared to their slaves as hypocritical, even weak. Slaves took advantage of this (p. 30).

Genovese's section on Slave work ethic is an especially interesting compliment to that of Herbert Gutman. Slaves too fought for control of production in a market-driven economy. Breaking equipment, refusing to do more than a certain amount of labor, they forced their masters to make accommodations. Wisely, enlightened masters recognized that they had to give the slave space. Resorting to a characterization of the slave worker as "lazy" and naturally averse to work, they justified the overtures they made to the slaves as "workers." Just as the northern factory manager needed to accommodate ethnic celebrations in order to curtail the worst abuses of blue Monday, so too the plantation owner allowed the slaves their corn shucking parties. Cotton production proceeded at a different pace than factories, and the nature of slave labor and the compromises it entailed were lost on the Northerners as they occupied the South after the war. In examining hegemony in the master-slave relationship, Genovese provokes a re-evaluation of what the new south would face in integrating slaves into industrial discipline.

It would also seem fruitful to look comparatively at the experiences of slaves in factories and immigrant labor in factories in the south. We read about yeomen farmers identifying with planter aristocrats out of race prejudice. At the North, Irish immigrants rioted in NY after the emancipation proclamation made the war "to free the slaves." It seems unimaginable that slaves in factories in the antebellum south would not have elicited the same negative response from immigrant whites.
3 vote mdobe | Jul 24, 2011 |
granddaddy of them all ( )
  ncunionist | Apr 25, 2008 |
A cornerstone to understanding the antebellum period in the US ( )
  heidilove | Dec 5, 2005 |
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