‘To Do and Be Undone: Enslaved Black Life, Courtship and Marriage in the Antebellum South’
Professor Brenda E. Stevenson
(University of Oxford)
RHS Prothero Lecture on 5 July 2023
Brenda Stevenson’s 2023 Prothero lecture centres on the familial ideals and realities of enslaved Black people in the American South via their courtship and marriages, ritually and experientially. The trope of the missing Black family has lived large in the ambitious research designs of scholars, the critical imagination of the public, and the caustic decisions of policy makers. The reality, however, is that even through the pain and loss brought on by centuries of slavery and systemic racialised inequalities of all sorts, Black people wanted and were able to create family ties that fostered humanity, assured survival, and even undergird post-emancipation progress across the generations.
The lecture describes and analyses courtship/romantic attitudes and behaviours, the traits that adults desired and despised in a partner, the negotiations with family and captors regarding one’s choice for a spouse, and the various kinds of ceremonies (or not) that signified one’s marital commitments.
More about the event: Lecture abstract and speaker biography
Watch the lecture: including audience questions and discussion