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A Slave Named Sukie Resists a Master's Advances

While slaves knew that they would face harsh punishments for acts of open resistance, many did so anyway. In this selection from an oral history interview, Fannie Berry describes a surprising act of defiance by a fellow slave, one that illustrates the particular dangers that female slaves faced from male masters and overseers. The interview was one of thousands conducted with former slaves during the 1930s, as part of the Federal Writer's Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The WPA interviews of Berry and thousands of other former slaves were assembled in 1941 as the seventeen-volume Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from Interviews with Former Slaves and are an important source for understanding the experiences and perspectives of the enslaved. While the original interviews were transcribed in dialect form, the language in this selection has been standardized to assist readers.

Sukie . . . used to cook for Miss Sarah Ann, but old Master was always trying to make Sukie his gal. One day Sukie was in the kitchen making soap. Had three great big pots of lye just coming to a boil in the fireplace when old Master came into get after her about something. He lay into her, but she didn’t answer him a word. Then he told Sukie to take off her dress. She told him no. Then he grabbed her and pulled it down off of her shoulders. When he had done that, he forgot about whipping her, I guess, because he grabbed hold of her and tried to pull her down on the floor. Then that woman got mad. She punched old Master and made him break loose and then she gave him a shove and pushed him down into the hot pot of soap. The soap was nearly boiling, and it burnt him nearly to death. He got up holding his behind and ran from the kitchen, not daring to yell, because he didn’t want Miss Sarah Ann to know about it. A few days later he took Sukie off and sold her to the slave trader.

Source | Fannie Berry, interviewed Petersburg, Virginia, n.d., in Ira Berlin et al., eds., Remembering Slavery: African Americans Talk About Their Personal Experiences of Slavery and Emancipation (New York: The New Press, 1998) 57; also in Library of Congress, American Memory collection, Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writer's Project, 1936-38, http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?mesnbib:1:./temp/~ammem_xOLX::
Creator | Works Progress Administration
Interviewee | Fannie Berry
Item Type | Oral History
Cite This document | Works Progress Administration, “A Slave Named Sukie Resists a Master's Advances,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed September 21, 2019, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/1638.

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