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Armed Black Man in the Antebellum South


Rosalyn Narayan

Doctoral Researcher, School of Comparative American Studies, History Department

R dot Narayan at warwick dot ac dot uk

Supervisor: Professor Tim Lockley

PhD Project:

Fatal-Self Deception in Print: Negotiating Slaveholders’ fears in Antebellum Southern Newspapers, 1830-1860

My research seeks a better understanding of the role of the southern press in propagating and encouraging the stereotype of the dangerous black male in the three decades leading to the Civil War. Historians have considered the image of the slave rebel in press coverage of slave rebellions and conspiracies, yet newspapers also often perpetuated a negative stereotype of the dangerous black male, even if they were not directly referring to African-American men, or even discussing American slavery. Indeed, the armed black male appeared in the southern press in many different guises: as the rebels of real and imagined slave rebellions; as fugitives; as free black males; as the accomplices of the Seminole Indians, as the rank and file soldiers of the British West India Regiments; and even as leaders of foreign rebellions who stood, metaphorically, in place of the feared black male.

There is a large gap in the scholarship relating to the Antebellum American press in terms of representations of race, particularly black males. 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 the black male. Looking at the southern press in particular is important; understanding the ways in which the press encouraged the everyday fears of slaveholders is vital to understanding their reactions both at times of hysteria and turmoil, and during periods of comparative calm. Using racist ideology that posited black people as inferior to whites, southern slaveholders justified the system of slavery. Yet slaveholders also greatly feared the prospect of slave rebellion. By considering the different ways in which the southern press influenced an image of the black male as dangerous, this project highlights how important the press was in creating and perpetuating fears and anxieties among the slaveholding elite.


Hiding in a Swamp

Left: “Runaway slave hiding in a swamp” (North Carolina Office of Archives and History, Raleigh, N.C.)

Right: A representation of Nat Turner's Rebellion.

Samuel Warner, Authentic and impartial narrative of the tragical scene

which was witnessed in Southampton County, Virginia (New York, 1831)