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Armed Black Man in the Antebellum South



Rosalyn Narayan

 Doctoral Researcher, School of Comparative American Studies, History Department

Supervisor: Professor Tim Lockley

R dot Narayan at warwick dot ac dot uk

PhD Project:

Fatal-Self Deception in Print: Negotiating Slaveholders’ fears in Antebellum Southern Newspapers, 1830-1861

This research seeks a better understanding of the role of the southern press in propagating the racist stereotypes of both the dangerous black ‘savage’ and the docile and childlike ‘Sambo’ in the three decades leading to the Civil War. These stereotypes posited black people as inferior to whites and fed what Eugene Genovese and Elizabeth Fox-Genovese described as Slaveholders’ ‘Fatal Self-Deception:’ a racist ideology which allowed them to morally justify their exploitation of the enslaved and helped allay their fears of slave rebellion. There is a large gap in the scholarship relating to the Antebellum American press in terms of representations of race. Whilst many scholars have considered the black press itself, and the agency of those who founded and ran black newspapers, there is very little research that has considered how the dominant white-elite-run press represented African-Americans.

This project seeks to show how southern Slaveholders encountered a constant reinforcement of racist stereotypes when they read the newspapers. Looking at the southern press in particular is important; understanding the ways in which the press provided a constant reinforcement of these stereotypes which fed Slaveholders’ self deception, but also exemplified the apparent propensity of the enslaved to rebel, is significant to understanding slaveholders’ anxieties over the trustworthiness of their slaves. Historians have considered the image of the slave rebel in press coverage of North American slave rebellions and conspiracies, yet newspapers also often perpetuated these stereotypes, even if they were not directly referring to slave rebellion, African-Americans, or even discussing American slavery.

By considering the different ways in which the southern press influenced the differing stereotypes of people of African descent, this project highlights how important newspapers were in both creating and perpetuating fears and anxieties amongst the slaveholding elite, whilst also bolstering Slaveholders’ moral justification for their exploitation of fellow human beings.


Rosalyn Narayan (2018) ‘Creating insurrections in the heart of our country:’ fear of the British West India Regiments in the Southern US Press, 1839–1860, Slavery & Abolition, 39:3, 497-517, DOI: 10.1080/0144039X. 2018.1489796


  • PhD in American History (currently writing-up) University of Warwick

Thesis: “‘Fatal-Self Deception’ in Print: Negotiating Slaveholders’ fears in Antebellum Southern Newspapers, 1830-1861”
AHRC funded as part of the ‘Africa’s Sons Under Arms’ project; a collaboration between the University of Warwick and the British Library

  • MPhil in Medieval History, University of Birmingham, 2013

Thesis: “The Balances of Power: Peasant Women’s Agency and Status in mid-thirteenth to later-fourteenth-century Norton”
Funding: AHRC BGP Research Preparation Masters Award

  • BA Hons, Medieval and Modern History, University of Birmingham, 2011

Grants and Fellowships

British Library Eccles Centre Postgraduate Research Fellow 2017

British Research Council Fellow 2016, John W Kluge Center, Library of Congress, Washington D.C., AHRC International Placement Scheme

Impact Activities

Secondary school teaching resource on race and slavery as part of the British Library’s ‘West India Regiments’ teaching resource, November 2017:“Why did people oppose the creation of the West India Regiments?”