A widely held belief is that African
American slaves were docile and content with their lot. This is far
from the truth, as slaves practiced frequent resistance to slavery.
These practices included but were not limited to deliberately slowing
down work, destroying property, feigning illness, inflicting
self-injury, and committing infanticide and suicide.
This article contains a story from my
family history that contradicts this belief. Family history is an
account of a person and his family in narrative form. It differs from
genealogy, in that it is limited to determining family relationships
and enumerating ancestors and their descendants in the natural order
My grandfather is this story's source.
His grandfather told him the story, he passed it on to me, and I share
it now with you.
"What's that Papa Daddy?"
"That's a mouse trap, Baby."
"What's it for?"
"It's to catch mice and rats. You
never seen one of these before?" I nodded no.
"Well mice are real sneaky,"
explained Papa Daddy. "You have to bait a trap to catch them. You
take a piece of meat or a piece of cheese and you place it here on
the trap. Then you place this lever over the food and when the mouse
comes and starts to eat BANG right on his head. But those
mice are very slick. I sometimes put bait out for them and when I
look at the traps the next day, all the food is gone and no mouse.
Now you have to be very careful when you set the trap, because they
won't take the bait, if they smell a human scent. Yes. They are very
tricky. Want me to show you how it work?"
"Yes," I replied.
"Now stand back. Don't get too
Papa Daddy took the handle of a nearby
broom, poked the lever of the trap and tripped it. CLACK.
"Oh," I exclaimed.
"Now traps aren't the best way to
catch a rat."
"What's the difference between a rat
and a mouse?" I asked.
"A rat is a big, grown up mouse. You
have to be careful with them. They don't like you to mess with them.
They'll fight back and bite you. Now the best way to kill a rat is
to poison him. And the best poison there is, is ground glass,"
continued Papa Daddy.
"Yes. You take, for example, an old
Coca-Cola bottle and you pulverize it. You ground it as fine as you
"Do you do that Papa Daddy?"
"I have, but I don't do it no more
because you grandchildren are around. It's too dangerous. Now you
take that ground glass and mix it good with some jam and place it
where you know the rat is sure to find it. You can't see the glass
when it is all mixed up with the jam. The rat comes and eats the jam
and that ground glass goes right through his whole body and cuts him
all inside. He bleeds in his stomach and dies."
"My grandfather told me that in
slavery days, that was how a house slave he knew killed his master.
Yes. With ground up glass in food. The master mysteriously died and
nobody knew nothin'."
This story shows that African American
slaves were displeased with their situation and they sometimes
performed aggressive acts because of their enslavement. Although the
motivation behind these acts was complex, it is a fact that people
held in bondage devised creative means to resist and retaliate against