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Eugene D. Genovese (1930–2012)

Author of Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made

41+ Works 2,189 Members 12 Reviews 2 Favorited

About the Author

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Eugene Genovese was educated at Brooklyn College and Columbia University, where he received his Ph.D. in 1959. He has served as Pitt Professor of American History at Cambridge University and Distinguished Scholar in Residence at the University Center in Georgia. An show more erudite, unconventional, and often unpredictable Marxist, Genovese has forced historians of the Old South---and especially of slavery---to think in new ways about important questions. Ranging over a multitude of topics, his work is concerned mainly with the relationship between economic factors, social conditions, and culture. Of his best-known work. Roll, Jordan, Roll (1974), David Brion Davis wrote: "Genovese'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 their contradictory perceptions interacted" (N.Y. Times Book Review). (Bowker Author Biography) show less

Works by Eugene D. Genovese

Slavery in the New World (1969) — Editor — 34 copies
Neri d'America 2 copies

Associated Works


Common Knowledge

Legal name
Genovese, Eugene Dominick
Date of death
Brooklyn, New York, USA
Place of death
Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Places of residence
Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Brooklyn College (BA)
Columbia University (MA, PhD)
Fox-Genovese, Elizabeth (wife)
Organization of American Historians
Rutgers University
University of Rochester
United States Army (1953-1954)
Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn
Historical Society (Founder) (show all 7)
Sir George Williams University, Montreal QC Canada
Awards and honors
American Academy of Arts and Letters (1976)
Richard M. Weaver Award (1993)
Short biography
The New York Times said in his obituary: Eugene D. Genovese was a prizewinning historian who challenged conventional thinking on slavery in the American South by stressing its paternalism as he traveled a personal intellectual journey from Marxism to conservative Catholicism. His most famous book, “Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made,” won the Bancroft Prize for American history writing in 1975.



I just loved it as a Christian and as a History freak.

Based on extensive exploration of oral History and other records from slaves, slaveholders and observers of slavery in the US, what began as an exploration of how slaves influenced the world of slaveholders ended up, as the title hints, as a record of the witness that preachers but specially slave converts gave of their faith and its power to change people and societies.
leandrod | 7 other reviews | Mar 17, 2021 |
In this massive work, Genovese uses Marxist categories to analyze the world the slaves created for themselves in the Old South. His theme, which is documented by intensive examination of primary sources, is that the hegemony of the southern planters over the black slaves was based not only on physical power but on a paternalist ideology which the slaveholders adopted both to provide stability to a system ultimately based on violence and to salve their own consciences in justifying holding other human beings in bondage. Given the impracticality of insurrection, Genovese argues that the slaves accepted paternalism as an accommodation to their oppressive and harsh circumstances but turned it to their own use as a form of resistance to slavery. They turned the paternalistic gestures of the planters into non-legal rights or customs that became expectations that the planters could not ignore and in the process the slaves limited in various ways the scope of the planters’ power over them. The development of African-American Christianity played a key role in giving the slaves a sense of community among themselves that enabled them to face the challenges of slavery not just as individuals but as a collectivity and provided them a sense of self-worth which resisted the psychological demoralization that could so easily be the result of slavery. The result was the creation of their own world which became a part of American culture but also provided the basis for the development of black political culture to the civil rights era. (The book was published in 1972.)

The vast bulk of the book is devoted to examining a complete range of life experiences of the slave in the context of this analytical framework, which Genovese applies with a light touch and great sensitivity to the variations and differences in real life. He looks to statements of the slaves in their narratives and interviews as well as reminiscences after the Civil War. He also makes extensive use of the letters and other testimony of white slaveholders and white visitors from the North (e.g. Frederick Law Olmsted). He comes back again and again to the contradictions faced by both the slaveholders and the slaves. By law, the slaves generally had the status of mere objects, instruments of their owner. But in practice, slaveholders had to recognize that the slaves were full human beings that could not be managed purely as things. The slaves combined both accommodation and resistance in the relationships with their masters.

Genovese examines the complexity of these relations, and their inherent contradictions, in the law, religion, emancipation, the role of preachers and drivers, working in the “Big House” or the fields, life in the slave quarters, work ethic, marriage, funerals, cooking, language, surnames, children, old people, clothing and many more areas. He draws on West African roots, makes comparisons with slave culture in other parts of the Western Hemisphere including the Caribbean and Brazil and with the treatment of the working class in Europe and finds the roots of paternalism in medieval Europe. At the end he contrasts paternalist social values with the capitalist market economy in a short case study of Japan.

The paternalistic system consisted of reciprocal duties and obligations for both the masters and the slaves. Having persuaded themselves of their generosity and the slaves’ appreciation of it, the whites faced a rude awakening when the system collapsed and the slaves welcomed emancipation.
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drsabs | 7 other reviews | May 20, 2020 |
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 | 7 other reviews | 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.… (more)
1 vote
Carolfoasia | 7 other reviews | Aug 23, 2011 |



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