The Mark of Slavery: Disability, Race, and Gender in Antebellum America Cover Image
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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 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.

About the Author


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

Praise For…


"Highly recommended." --Choice

"Addressing an often-overlooked aspect of the experiences of enslaved people, Barclay intricately examines the connection between racism, disabilities and slavery, as well as the legacy it left behind, in this important and well-researched volume." --Ms. Magazine

"This original work adds an important new voice to conversations about slavery, disability, and medical history. Exceptional analysis of an understudied topic" --Library Journal (starred review)

​​"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


Product Details
ISBN: 9780252085703
ISBN-10: 0252085701
Publisher: University of Illinois Press
Publication Date: April 13th, 2021
Pages: 264
Language: English