Dwelling Place: A Plantation Epic

Dwelling Place: A Plantation Epic: Erskine Clarke “[A] beautifully conceived and penetrating book…Clarke has produced one of the finest studies of American slavery ever written.” The glowing review, courtesy of Steven Hahn in the latest issue of The New Republic, is of Erskine Clarke’s new book, Dwelling Place: A Plantation Epic, a narrative history of the intimately linked and interwoven lives of a plantation’s inhabitants–white and black–in Liberty County, Georgia, from 1805 to 1869. “His achievement,” Hahn continues, “is owed to many years of research, to serious reflection about the social dynamics of slave societies, and to a determination that his narrative really be a history of ‘two peoples living together.'”

But this history, as Clarke points out in the preface to Dwelling Place, is “also two histories—one of whites and one of blacks, one of owners and one of slaves”:

For in spite of all their closeness and all the ways their lives were bound together on this particular part of the Georgia coast, there was a great divide between those who were owned and those who owned. So great was the distance between them and so different was their experience that Dwelling Place is necessarily two histories of one place and one time….

One history is of a white family’s love for one another and of their love for the beauty of a low-country home. Their story is marked by the bitter irony of good intentions gone astray and of benevolent impulses becoming ideological supports for deep oppression.

The other history is of a particular African-American family’s resistance to the degradations of slavery. Their story is marked by the varied strategies of its members—not only open resistance to slavery but also acculturation and relentless negotiations—as they sought to ease the burdens of slavery and to move toward a new future for themselves and their family.

Read the first chapter (pdf document).

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