Sharon's Reviews > Deep Like the Rivers: Education in the Slave Quarter Community, 1831-1865

Deep Like the Rivers by Thomas L. Webber
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's review
May 27, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: history
Recommended to Sharon by: Jonathan

Webber explores the community created by slaves on American plantations in the mid-19th century. He looks first at the values that white owners wanted to teach slaves, then at the values and education that slaves themselves taught each other--which very frequently were in direct opposition to what their owners wanted to them to believe. It's a fascinating book, very accessible.
One thing I particularly liked was Webber's extensive use of oral history. In addition to to using the usual WPA ex-slave narratives (collected by white researchers), he also uses the Fisk University narratives (collected by black college students).
Deep Like the Rivers is not only informative, it's inspiring. Webber doesn't shy away from portraying the evils of plantation life, but he makes it clear that most slaves retained as much agency as they could. It's incredible to see how people living in a vile, horrible system created a rich, deep culture that sustained communities for generations.
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Daniel O. This is a remarkable book. Since one chapter in a book that I am writing deals with slavery, I have sought out primary sources to support some of the situations I have alluded to.

Mr. Webber (no kin, I assume) went to both the WPA slave narratives and the Fisk studies for his source material. While this work is meant to be academic, the author gives the reader unique views into the culture of the "Quarter", made especially valid by his use of the narratives of ex-slaves. While he does not soft pedal the horrors of slavery, he does give very humanistic and sympathetic insights into a caring, rich, and intricate culture within the slave population unlike anything I have ever read. Within the Quarter, it seems like most everyone was there to support their enslaved brothers and sisters by religious teaching (Christian, conjure, or ancestral), teaching survival techniques, and especially through the care and nurturing of children.

It seems that amid the unfair, brutal, and often lethal arena of American agricultural slavery, the human will to persist, survive, and support those in the same situation triumphed over all the cruelty, inequity and arrogance of their captors. I recommend that anyone interested in a fuller understanding of this dark chapter of American history should read this book. I was truly touched.

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