Dr. Edna Medford

Slave Family

Previous Presentations and Images of Enslaved Families

    Dr. Edna Medford of Howard University  discussed the family structure of African American families and the importance of family.

        Two views of Enslaved Families

Owners' Perspective
  • Units of labor
  • Children regarded as future labor.
  • Families encourage peace and discourage running away.
Enslaved Americans' Perspective
  • Members of a social unit.
  • Affirms their humanity
  • Conveyor of  culture
  • Survival skills school

    Diversity of Experience of  Enslaved families

Frederick Doug lass's experience was one of forced alienation.
"Never having enjoyed to any considerable experience her soothing presence, her tender and watchful care, I received the tidings of her death with much the same emotion I should have felt at the death of a stranger."
Hannah Valentine kept in contact after being separated from her family:
"Give my best to Michael and David.  Tell Michael that I am happy to hear that he has seen all his relations ... Aunt Lucinda and Mary send their love to you all."

Structure/Composition of Household
  •     Nuclear/double headed
  •     Nuclear/single parent
  •     Multigenerational
  •     Same Sex Residency 
Characteristics of Enslaved Families
  • Matriarchal v patriarchal
  • Co-residential Consensual Unions
  • Abroad Marriages
  • Polygamous/monogamous

Stability of Black Family Under Slavery

  •  Separation
  •   Lack of Parental Authority
  •   Compromised Traditional Roles
  •   Sexual Exploitation of Women
  • Naming Patterns affirmed family ties
  • Negotiation of Privacy
  • Supplementing Family Subsistence


Fictive Kin - Family status extended to non related people.  Children are never really left alone if their family is separated by distance or death.

Factors influencing Family characteristics