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From Bondage to Belonging

The Worcester Slave Narratives
By Cristal Perriello

From Bondage to Belonging

From Bondage to Belonging

Two professors from the College of the Holy Cross bring you back to the pre-Civil War era and make you feel what it was like to be a slave in From Bondage to Belonging: The Worcester Slave Narratives (University of Massachusetts Press 2008). The book, edited by B. Eugene McCarthy, professor emeritus of English at Holy Cross, and Thomas L. Doughton, senior lecturer at the Center for Interdisciplinary and Special Studies at Holy Cross, is a collection of autobiographies that tell the gripping stories of eight ex-slaves, all of whom settled in the Worcester area.

“They are autobiographical narratives about their lives as slaves and afterwards in freedom,” says McCarthy. “Tom and I wrote an introduction that features the history of Black Worcester up to the 1890s and a discussion of the slave narrative form, and what these eight add to or change from other narratives.”

The narratives are dated from l842 to l895. Four of the narratives were published before Emancipation, four afterwards; one author whose writing falls into the latter category is Bethany Veney, who after many years of slavery moved to Worcester when she obtained freedom:

“I had been told by an old negro woman certain tricks that I could resort to, when placed upon the stand, that would be likely to hinder my sale; and when the doctor, who was employed to examine the slaves on such occasions, told me to let him see my tongue, he found it coated and feverish, and, turning from me with a shiver of disgust, said he was obliged to admit that at that moment I was in a very bilious condition. One after another of the crowd felt of my limbs, asked me all manner of questions, to which I replied in the ugliest manner I dared; and when the auctioneer raised his hammer, and cried, ‘How much do I hear for this woman?’ the bids were so low I was ordered down from the stand, and Eliza was called up in my place. Poor thing! There were many eager bids for her; for such as she, the demands of slavery were insatiable.” ~ Excerpt from Bondage and Belonging

This is the first time these stories have been published in over 100 years. “Since so few people ~ even those who taught Worcester history ~ knew of these slave narratives from Worcester, we believed we should publish them in a single, readable, and affordable volume so that Worcester would know of its heritage and the distinct contribution these eight narrators make not only to Worcester history but to literary history,” says McCarthy.

In the book, McCarthy and Doughton detail how Worcester evolved from a slave society into a community that supports African Americans and their culture.

Get your copy of this powerful work at Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.

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