The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, from Womb to Grave, in the Building of a Nation

Daina Ramey Berry. Beacon, $27.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-8070-4762-0
In this “financial recapitulation of black bodies and souls,” Berry, associate professor of history and African and African diaspora studies at the University of Texas at Austin, examines how slaveholders ascribed pecuniary worth to women, men, and children. Slavery took many forms across the antebellum U.S., but all enslaved people experienced their reduction to the status of chattel, bought and sold at their owner’s will. Yet surprisingly little scholarship has examined the monetary value of these individuals, whose worth increased from infancy through adolescence, peaking at the height of their productive and reproductive capacities, and declining steadily to the point where the elderly were considered nearly valueless. Upon their deaths, they might regain some financial significance, as the bodies of many were sold to medical schools for purposes of dissection. Crucially, Berry also delves into the annals of slave communities to explore the emotional strategies by which the enslaved resisted their reduction to an “exchangeable commodity,” centering their lives on spiritual beliefs that defined the soul, rather than the body, as the true location of their individuality. Berry’s groundbreaking work in the historiography of American slavery deserves a wide readership beyond academia. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 12/05/2016
Release date: 01/24/2017
Compact Disc - 978-1-5414-0588-2
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