English 101: Language and Human Rights: Assignment Two
Dr. Justin Rogers-Cooper
Title: The Plantation and After: Work Cultures in American Death Economies
Due Date: See syllabus
Using course texts, students will create 4-5 page, thesis-driven essay that explains the relationship between African American labor and white supremacist violence both during slavery and afterwards. Students will describe how African-American work cultures changed before and after the Civil War by arguing what African-Americans did, but also why they it. They will also account for the work of white terrorist violence before and after slavery, and why they did it.
In When I Was a Slave, there are various slave testimonies about the connections between the labor of the slaves and the violence that regulated that labor. We also learn that there were two different kinds of work: the commercial planting of cotton and tobacco for export, and the jobs that allowed the plantations to be nearly self-sustaining organic farms and, in some cases, small factories. From many of the accounts told by slaves, there were definite “work cultures,” or local cultures of workers, that grew on the plantations and remained there after slavery.
Students should first make note of at least two or three slaves testimonies that relate “before and after” stories about such work, and pay careful attention to what motivations were important to the decisions that slaves made. Students will develop the first part of their thesis statement based on what they discover about who worked, why they worked, and how that work did or did not change after the war.
In Southern Horrors, we learn from Ida B. Wells that the terrorism of lynching by white southerners played a large role in regulating African-American work cultures after the war. Just as torture, whipping, rape, and sadistic punishment worked to regulate plantation work before the war, lynching worked to enforce political and economic divisions after it.
For the second half of their thesis statement and the second half of their essay, however, students should explain the difference in how this violence worked. African-American workers in the south used to work as slaves, and violence was directed against them as bodies “owned” white slave-holders. African-Americans were not “owned” by anyone after the war, but whites justified terrorist violence against them nevertheless. In their essays, students should be able to summarize what this violence was, how it worked, but explain also why it happened.
In the end, the student will have a complex thesis statement that explains African-American work culture before and after the Civil War, but will also explain how the white terrorist cultures interacted with African American workers before and after the war.
Steps for Assignment
1. Note-take on African-American work cultures in When I Was a Slave. Pay attention to what work happened on plantations before and after the war, whether or not plantation life was regulated by violence, and what happened after the war.
2. Note-take on what Ida B. Wells argues in Southern Horrors. What facts does she give about lynching? What reasons does she give for explaining it?
3. Create a thesis that meets the goal of the assignment. Overall, students are trying to keep track of two communities before and after the war: African-American workers and white terrorists.4. Continue to draft and revise the essay in time for the Peer Review.