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Fear of the 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:

"Perpetuating Fear: Representations of the Armed Black Man in the Antebellum Southern Press, 1830-1860"

Fear of the armed black man was widespread in the antebellum southern United States. The fear that at any moment a 'race war' might break out was a source of great psychological trauma for slaveholders. My research seeks a better understanding of the role of the southern press in propagating and encouraging the stereotype of the dangerous armed black man in the three decades leading to the Civil War. This stereotype was an image that slaveholders consumed on a daily or weekly basis when they read the newspapers. 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 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. 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. By considering the different ways in which the southern press influenced an image of the black male as dangerous, my project will highlight 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)