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Trigger Warners: Violence, Abuse (Physical, Mental, Emotional, Verbal, Sexual), Rape and Sexual Assault, Racism, Kidnapping, Death or Dying. 

This is an assemblage around the 400 year period of slavery in which Africans were forcibly stolen from the West African coast and shipped across the Atlantic to the Americas (Canada, the United States, Latin American, and the Caribbean Islands). 

Between the 18th and 19th centuries, "slave narratives" went part of the way in advocating for the abolition of slavery. Challenging Enlightenment Era thinking, which served to articulate Black enslavement as the natural order of things, Black writers, including Harriet Jacobs, Fredrick Douglas, Mary Prince, and Olaudah Equiano, among others, communicated (in a measured way) the horrors of slavery, while sharing their thoughts, ambitions, and desires. Writers most often collaborated with abolitionists, who provided editorial and ghost writing assistance, to publish and distribute their work. It is important to note the white audience for whom these texts are written, how the enslaved person's experiences are expressed using the language of Christianity, and the ways writers refrain from overtly vilifying white people and whiteness in the process of condemning the institution of slavery. Consider, also, the title of the text and the role of the abolitionist editor in creating not only a legible and palatable "slave narrative," but a marketable one, too.

A note on language: In order to always maintain the personhood of those who endured slavery, we use the adjective "enslaved" instead of the noun "slave" in order to emphasize slavery as a condition imposed in a person. At best "slave" implies an inherent identity or core being, at worst it suggests a "thing" or object; therefore, we refrain from referring to people as slaves. In the same vein, we talk about "people" and not "property," "enslavers" and not "slave owners".

The Middle Passage

  • Slave Voyages Timelapse

  • "Stepping Through Ghana's 'Door of No Return'"


Slave Narratives

  • Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs

  • The History of Mary Prince by Mary Prince

  • Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass

  • Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom, or, the Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery by Anon

  • Behind the Scenes by Elizabeth Keckley

  • 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup

  • The Interesting Narrative and Other Writings by Olaudah Equiano

  • Our Nig by Harriet E. Wilson

  • Narrative of William W. Brown by William W. Brown

  • Six Women's Slave Narratives by William L. Andrews

  • Women's Slave Narratives by Annie L. Burton

  • COLLECTION: Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936 to 1938 

Contemporary Narratives

  • A Mercy by Toni Morrison

  • Beloved by Toni Morrison

  • Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

  • Kindred: a Graphic Novel Adaptation by Octavia E. Butler

  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

  • Stigmata by Phyllis Alesia Perry

  • The Curse of Caste; or the Slave Bride by Julia C. Collins

  • Clotel or the President's Daughter by William Wells Brown

  • The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

  • Feeding the Ghosts by Fred D'Aguiar

  • Sugar in the Blood by Andrea Stuart

  • Roots


  • David Walker's Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World by David Walker

  • Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurston

  • Capitalism and Slavery by Eric Williams

  • The 1619 Project 

  • The Time of Slavery 


  • Complete Writings by Phillis Wheatley

  • The Black Poets by Dudley Randall

  • Zong! by M. NourbeSe Philip

  • Slave Song by David Dabydeen



  • Tacky's Revolt by Vincent Brown

  • Fire on the Water by Lenora Warren

  • The Five Greatest Slave Rebellions in the United States

  • 100 Amazing Facts about the Negro with Complete Proof by J. A. Rogers

  • American Negro Slave Revolts by Herbert Aptheker

  • Nat Turner's Slave Rebellion by Herbert Aptheker

Afterlives of Slavery


"GORÉE ISLAND, SENEGAL—There is a door on the shores of this island that looks out to the Atlantic. There isn’t much to see from it, just blue waters glittering in the hot West African sun, the pleasant lapping of waves upon rock, a naked horizon that, for a dreamer, would inspire a sense of possibility. Yet for thousands of captive slaves that passed through this “Door of No Return,” the view meant being ripped from their homeland, a horrifying voyage across an ocean, and a cruel fate." (Cindy Fan)

This assemblage is by no means exhaustive; more to the point, it is only a beginning – an opening. We encourage you to imagine and to share other aesthetics, philosophies, and songs that speak to its matter.

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