Cover for BARCLAY: The Mark of Slavery: Disability, Race, and Gender in Antebellum America. Click for larger image

The Mark of Slavery

Disability, Race, and Gender in Antebellum America

Exploring the disability history of slavery

Time and again, antebellum Americans justified slavery and white supremacy by linking blackness to disability, defectiveness, and dependency. Jenifer L. Barclay examines the ubiquitous narratives that depicted black people with disabilities as pitiable, monstrous, or comical, narratives used not only to defend slavery but also to argue against it. As she shows, this relationship between ableism and racism impacted racial identities during the antebellum period and played an overlooked role in shaping American history afterward. Barclay also illuminates the everyday lives of the ten percent of enslaved people who lived with disabilities. Devalued by slaveholders as unsound and therefore worthless, these individuals nonetheless carved out an unusual autonomy. Their roles as caregivers, healers, and keepers of memory made them esteemed within their own communities and celebrated figures in song and folklore.

Prescient in its analysis and rich in detail, The Mark of Slavery is a powerful addition to the intertwined histories of disability, slavery, and race.

"Barclay's deft handling of disability through her archival research, the brilliance of her scholarship on the ways that blackness becomes synonymous with disability, her skillful use of Black Critical Disability Studies as a methodological framework, and clear and persuasive prose allows us greater insight into the debilitating effects of slavery as a disabling device for its victims."--Deirdre Cooper Owens, author of Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology


Jenifer L. Barclay is an assistant professor of history at the University at Buffalo.

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