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The Knotted Line

Evan Bissell, Author

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1682: Christian Parentage (Virginia Slave Act)

1682: Virginia "Act I. It is enacted that all servants [...] which shall be imported into this country...whether Negroes, Moors, mulattoes or Indians who and whose parentage and native countries are not Christian at the time of their first purchase by some Christian [...] are hereby adjudged, deemed and taken to be slaves to all intents and purposes."

Actions for Self-Determination:
  • 1663: Black slaves and indentured whites in Gloucester, Virginia, plot an interracial rebellion but are overthrown and leaders are hanged.* 
  • 1781: Elizabeth "Mum Bett" Freeman becomes one of the first people to file a "freedom suit" to win her freedom in Massachusetts. She states, "Any time, any time while I was a slave, if one minute's freedom had been offered to me, and I had been told I must die at the end of that minute, I would have taken it—just to stand one minute on God's airth a free woman— I would."
  • 1822: Denmark Vesey, a free Black man in South Carolina and other members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church plan to liberate Charleston and then sail to Haiti. As an organizer, Vesey draws heavily on the Old Testament and the story of Exodus. Betrayed and charged with conspiracy, Vesey and 35 others are later hanged.*
  • 1992: Mothers Reclaiming Our Children (ROC) forms in response to mass imprisonment of their children as a racially and class diverse group.
Discussion Questions:
  • Why does the Virginia Act refer to the "parentage and native countries" to define who can and can't be slaves?
  • How does the Virginia Act support the "social construction of race"?
  • How was Christianity an early method for determining who can and can't be enslaved?
  • Discuss the role of Christianity as a tool of oppression and as a tool of liberation using the above examples.
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