To understand the present, we need to look at the past. This maxim guides social science research. For my employer, this means that to get a full picture of Black father absence today, it is important to examine it throughout history. My role is to research the early years—that is, slavery.
My main sources are interviews that were done with elderly ex-slaves in the 1930s. Their memories provide rich insight into many different aspects of life under slavery, as well life during the 1800s more generally. I’m learning a ton. For example, I didn’t know that on large plantations, Black “drivers” often worked under White overseers, and that some young slave children were actually raised by their mistress in the house so they would learn more domestic tasks.
It is also interesting just to peer into people’s thoughts from so long ago. Some parts are very different, and jarring to read. For example, many of the interviewees—including women—believe that women should not vote because their place is in the home, away from politics. Other parts are jarring for the opposite reason, because they are so similar to sentiments expressed today. Almost all of the interviewees who talk about young people say they work too little, drink too much, don’t know how to save money, aren’t religious enough, and don’t value marriage… sound familiar, Millennials?
Learning more about slavery has been a big benefit of my internship. In my next blog, I’ll discuss some things I learned about the Civil War and Reconstruction.