Dr. Daina Ramey Berry, Black Women's History

A Black Women’s History of the United States

Co-authored by Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross

Boston: Beacon Press | 2020 (Revisioning American History Series)

In centering Black women’s stories, two award-winning historians seek both to empower African American women and to show their allies that Black women’s unique ability to make their own communities while combatting centuries of oppression is an essential component in our continued resistance to systemic racism and sexism. Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross offer an examination and celebration of Black womanhood, beginning with the first African women who arrived in what became the United States to African American women of today.

A Black Women’s History of the United States reaches far beyond a single narrative to showcase Black women’s lives in all their fraught complexities. Berry and Gross prioritize many voices: enslaved women, freedwomen, religious leaders, artists, queer women, activists, and women who lived outside the law. The result is a starting point for exploring Black women’s history and a testament to the beauty, richness, rhythm, tragedy, heartbreak, rage, and enduring love that abounds in the spirit of Black women in communities throughout the nation.

“Remarkably comprehensive and accessible, introductory and sophisticated, two ground-breaking historians have come together to produce a ground-breaking new history of Black women in the United States. To know the story of the United States is to know this indispensable story.”

Ibram X. Kendi, author of Stamped from the Beginning and How to Be an Antiracist

“A powerful and important book that charts the rich and dynamic history of Black women in the United States. It shows how these courageous women challenged racial and gender oppression and boldly asserted their authority and visions of freedom even in the face of resistance. This book is required reading for anyone interested in social justice.”

Keisha N. Blain, author of Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom

“This book is a gift to anyone interested in a more complete—a more truthful—story about the United States. By starting the history about Black women on this land with us as free people and as people agitating for our freedom, by prioritizing all Black women’s voices and coming up to the present day, Dr. Gross and Dr. Berry illuminate greater possibilities for our collective freedom dreams and struggles for collective liberation.”

Charlene A. Carruthers, author of Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements

A Black Women’s History of the United States is an extraordinary contribution to our collective understanding of the most profound injustices and equalities, as well as the most committed struggles to realize true justice and equality, that have shaped this nation since its birth. Through the courageous and complex voices of black women, and with deft attention to the lives that black women have led from the earliest moments of conquest and colonialism to the dawn of the 21st century, historians Kali Gross and Daina Ramey Berry have utterly upended traditional accounts of the American past in ways most desperately needed in our American present.”

Heather Ann Thompson, historian and Pulitzer Prize winning author of Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy

Dr. Daina Ramey Berry, Sexuality and Slavery

Sexuality & Slavery: Reclaiming Intimate Histories in the Americas

Edited by Daina Ramey Berry and Leslie M. Harris

Athens: University of Georgia Press | 2018

In this groundbreaking collection, editors Daina Ramey Berry and Leslie M. Harris place sexuality at the center of slavery studies in the Americas (the United States, the Caribbean, and South America). While scholars have marginalized or simply overlooked the importance of sexual practices in most mainstream studies of slavery, Berry and Harris argue here that sexual intimacy constituted a core terrain of struggle between slaveholders and the enslaved. These essays explore consensual sexual intimacy and expression within slave communities, as well as sexual relationships across lines of race, status, and power. Contributors explore sexuality as a tool of control, exploitation, and repression and as an expression of autonomy, resistance, and defiance.

"Sexuality and Slavery . . . is a provocative book that contains groundbreaking research. Examining new paradigms for understanding sexuality and intimate relationships in the colonial Americas, the authors challenge existing assumptions and confront the shortcomings of typical approaches used in historical scholarship."

Katie Knowles, Black Perspectives

The Price for Their Pound of Flesh

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

Boston: Beacon Press | 2017

The Price for Their Pound of Flesh is the first book to explore the economic value of enslaved people through every phase of their lives—including from before birth to after death—in the American domestic slave trades. Covering the full “life cycle” (including preconception, infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, the senior years, and death), historian Daina Berry shows the lengths to which slaveholders would go to maximize profits. She draws from over ten years of research to explore how enslaved people responded to being appraised, bartered, and sold. By illuminating their lives, Berry ensures that the individuals she studies are regarded as people, not merely commodities. Analyzing the depth of this monetization of human property will change the way we think about slavery, reparations, capitalism, and nineteenth-century medical education.

Purchase the book from the publisher by clicking the icon below, or select one of the following fine retailers: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BookPeople, IndieBound, and Powell's.

“Daina Ramey Berry’s harrowing account of how slaveholders turned every aspect of a slave’s life into a commodity to be sold on markets—from the reproductive possibilities of enslaved women to the corpses of deceased slaves—is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding American history, or our contemporary dilemmas.”

Sven Beckert, author of Empire of Cotton: A Global History

“Daina Berry has written the richest account of the many ways in which an enslaved African American’s body was bought and sold throughout her or his lifetime. From the cradle to the grave and beyond, enslavers priced black bodies based on their imagined fitness for labor, sexual exploitation, use as collateral, and even their value after death as dissection cadavers. In horrific detail, Berry shows that there was a price tag placed on every pound of flesh. She also shows the efforts of enslaved people to assert that their lives had values beyond the money that could be rendered from their muscles and extracted from their bones. Out of the certainty that their souls were pearls beyond price, black people fought to make room for their own system of human values.”

Edward E. Baptist, author of The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism

Slavery and Freedom in Savannah

Slavery and Freedom in Savannah

Edited by Leslie M. Harris and Daina Ramey Berry

Athens: University of Georgia Press | 2014

Slavery and Freedom in Savannah is a richly illustrated, accessibly written book modeled on the very successful Slavery in New York, a volume Leslie M. Harris coedited with Ira Berlin. Here Harris and Daina Ramey Berry have collected a variety of perspectives on slavery, emancipation, and black life in Savannah from the city’s founding to the early twentieth century. Written by leading historians of Savannah, Georgia, and the South, the volume includes a mix of longer thematic essays and shorter sidebars focusing on individual people, events, and places.

Slavery and Freedom in Savannah provides a fascinating, multifaceted, documented look inside this storied city during tumultuous times. With an emphasis on African American experience and relations across the color line, each chapter opens an illuminating window into the always complex, often unexpected nature of urban life in the South from the period of the slave trade through the early twentieth-century struggle for black civil rights.”

Tiya Miles, author of The House on Diamond Hill: A Cherokee Plantation Story

“Based on extensive and original research, as well as on a close understanding of the broader issues in the history of slavery and race relations, this marvelous collection of essays adds enormously to our understanding of the struggles and achievements of black Savannahians. An invaluable study, and one which no student of the black populations of other southern towns and cities can afford to ignore.”

Betty Wood, Author of Slavery in Colonial America, 1619–1776

Daina Ramey Berry, Enslaved Women in America

Enslaved Women in America: An Encyclopedia

Daina Ramey Berry, Editor in Chief, with Deleso A. Alford, Senior Editor

Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO | 2012

This singular reference provides an authoritative account of the daily lives of enslaved women in the United States, from colonial times to emancipation following the Civil War. Through essays, photos, and primary source documents, the female experience is explored, and women are depicted as central, rather than marginal, figures in history.
Enslaved Women in America: An Encyclopedia contains 100 entries written by a range of experts and covering all aspects of daily life. Topics include culture, family, health, labor, resistance, and violence. Arranged alphabetically by entry, this unique look at history features life histories of lesser-known African American women, including Harriet Robinson Scott, the wife of Dred Scott, as well as more notable figures.
Click here to read an interview with Daina Ramey Berry about the encyclopedia.

"Ranging in topic from branding to child care and from folk medicine to hiring out, these absorbing pieces are also well-written and approachable for a general adult audience and undergraduates through faculty. All public and academic libraries supporting American history, African American studies, or women’s studies programs should purchase this work."

Library Journal

"This is an interesting encyclopaedia covering both the history of slavery, and of women during this era, specifically how gender affected the personal and working lives of enslaved women, not just in relation to the enslavers, but within their own communities. This is useful for humanities collections, in particular for history and gender studies subjects, but anyone with an interest in the Old South, the American Civil War, the roots of feminism and the era of slavery would find this a worthwhile read."

Reference Reviews

Swing the Sickle

Swing the Sickle for the Harvest is Ripe:
Gender and Slavery in Antebellum Georgia

Daina Ramey Berry

Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press | 2007

Swing the Sickle for the Harvest Is Ripe compares the work, family, and economic experiences of enslaved women and men in upcountry and low country Georgia during the nineteenth century. Mining planters' daybooks, plantation records, and a wealth of other sources, Daina Ramey Berry shows how slaves' experiences on large plantations, which were essentially self-contained, closed communities, contrasted with those on small plantations, where planters' interests in sharing their workforces allowed slaves more open, fluid communications. By inviting readers into slaves' internal lives through her detailed examination of domestic violence, separation and sale, and forced breeding, Berry also reveals important new ways of understanding what it meant to be a female or male slave, as well as how public and private aspects of slave life influenced each other on the plantation.

"Berry's book contributes to our understanding about how slaveholders attempted to control slave labor and what men and women did to shape family lives within the confines of enslavement."

American Historical Review

"'Swing the Sickle' demonstrates how far gender has come as a category of historical analysis in slave studies. It displays refinement, nuance, and balance . . . it brings together gender, work, family, and economy in an easily accessible, readable account useful to slave scholars and students of Georgia slavery in particular."

Georgia Historical Quarterly

"Berry's fresh approach to studying slavery in Georgia includes new discussions of gender exploitation, family, and worker's skills. 'Swing the Sickle for the Harvest Is Ripe' makes a tremendous contribution to the field, as it makes important connections between labor, skill and gender, forced breeding, and the informal economy.

Deborah Gray White, author of  Ar'n't I a Woman?: Female Slaves in the Plantation South


Book Chapter

Boushey, Heather, J. Bradford DeLong and Marshall Steinbaum, ed. After Piketty: The Agenda for Economics and Inequality. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2017.

Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century is the most widely discussed work of economics in recent history, selling millions of copies in dozens of languages. But are its analyses of inequality and economic growth on target? Where should researchers go from here in exploring the ideas Piketty pushed to the forefront of global conversation? A cast of economists and other social scientists tackle these questions in dialogue with Piketty, in what is sure to be a much-debated book in its own right.

After Piketty opens with a discussion by Arthur Goldhammer, the book’s translator, of the reasons for Capital’s phenomenal success, followed by the published reviews of Nobel laureates Paul Krugman and Robert Solow. The rest of the book is devoted to newly commissioned essays that interrogate Piketty’s arguments. Suresh Naidu and other contributors ask whether Piketty said enough about power, slavery, and the complex nature of capital. Laura Tyson and Michael Spence consider the impact of technology on inequality. Heather Boushey, Branko Milanovic, and others consider topics ranging from gender to trends in the global South. Emmanuel Saez lays out an agenda for future research on inequality, while a variety of essayists examine the book’s implications for the social sciences more broadly. Piketty replies to these questions in a substantial concluding chapter.

Book Chapter

Parker, Nate, ed. The Birth of a Nation: Nat Turner and the Making of a Movement. New York: Altria, 2016.

"This official tie-in to the highly acclaimed film, The Birth of a Nation, surveys the history and legacy of Nat Turner, the leader of one of the most renowned slave rebellions on American soil, while also exploring Turner’s relevance to contemporary dialogues on race relations.

Based on astounding events in American history, The Birth of a Nation is the epic story of one man championing the spirit of resistance as he leads a rough-and-tumble group into a revolt against injustice and slavery.

Breathing new life into a story that has been rife with controversy and prejudice for over two centuries, the film follows the rise of the visionary Virginian slave, Nat Turner. Hired out by his owner to preach to and placate slaves on drought-plagued plantations, Turner eventually transforms into an inspired, impassioned, and fierce anti-slavery leader..."

Book Chapter

Beckert, Sven and Seth Rockman, ed. Slavery's Capitalism: A New History of American Economic Development. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016.

"During the nineteenth century, the United States entered the ranks of the world's most advanced and dynamic economies. At the same time, the nation sustained an expansive and brutal system of human bondage. This was no mere coincidence. Slavery's Capitalism argues for slavery's centrality to the emergence of American capitalism in the decades between the Revolution and the Civil War. According to editors Sven Beckert and Seth Rockman, the issue is not whether slavery itself was or was not capitalist but, rather, the impossibility of understanding the nation's spectacular pattern of economic development without situating slavery front and center. American capitalism—renowned for its celebration of market competition, private property, and the self-made man—has its origins in an American slavery predicated on the abhorrent notion that human beings could be legally owned and compelled to work under force of violence."

Book Chapter

"Ter Show Yo’ de Value of Slaves": The Pricing of Human Property

Link, William A., David Brown, Brian Ward, and Martyn Bone, ed. Creating Citizenship in the Nineteenth-Century South. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2013.

"The pioneering essays in this volume are the first to address the evolution and significance of citizenship in the South from the antebellum era, through the Civil War, and down into the late nineteenth century. They explore the politics and meanings of citizenry and citizens’ rights in the nineteenth-century American South: from the full citizenship of some white males to the partial citizenship of women with no voting rights, from the precarious position of free blacks and enslaved African American anti-citizens, to postwar Confederate rebels who were not "loyal citizens" according to the federal government but forcibly asserted their citizenship as white supremacy was restored in the Jim Crow South."

Journal Article

Berry, Daina Ramey. "Teaching Ar'n't I a Woman?" Journal of Women’s History 19 (2007): 139-145.

"Each spring semester, I begin my African American women’s history class with images of black women from the seventeenth century to the present. Students squirm in their seats because the first few slides depict enslaved women in coffles being transported to slave ships. Images of half naked bondwomen, with agonizing facial expressions, exposed breasts, and children clinging to their ankles, shock the students. Some cringe when the next slide appears. Pictured is an enslaved woman forced to her knees, her arms twisted behind her, while two men stamp a hot iron rod on her shoulder to brand the initials of a slave-trading firm or slaveholder. Moving forward to the twentieth century, students seem relieved to see the familiar image of Hattie McDaniel from Gone with the Wind. No more naked bodies, they think; no more distressing photographs. Yet this stereotype is in some ways equally disturbing."

Journal Article

Berry, Daina Ramey. "'In Pressing Need of Cash': Gender, Skills, and Family Persistence in the Domestic Slave Trade." Journal of African American History 92 (2007): 22-36.

"Charlotte grew up on a Rockingham County, Virginia, plantation with her parents and sixteen brothers and sisters. Her family was somewhat favored by their slaveholder Charles L. Yancy because they represented nearly half of his enslaved population. They spent most of the day in the fields cultivating wheat, corn, rye, hemp, and tobacco; her father Novel was the 'head man' who managed the agricultural laborers. Their lives changed when Yancy, who developed a drinking problem, decided to employ an overseer. Suddenly, the plantation profits decreased and Charlotte and her family were subjected to four overseers over the course of two or three years. Unfortunately, Yancy's financial troubles continued and he 'found himself in pressing need of cash,' so Charlotte was sold to the highest bidder on the auction block in Richmond."

Book Chapter

Johnson, Walter, ed. The Chattel Principle: Internal Slave Trades in the Americas, 1808-1888. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005.

"This wide-ranging book presents the first comprehensive and comparative account of the slave trade within the nations and colonial systems of the Americas. While most scholarly attention to slavery in the Americas has concentrated on international transatlantic trade, the essays in this volume focus on the slave trades within Brazil, the West Indies, and the Southern states of the United States after the closing of the Atlantic slave trade. The contributors cast new light upon questions that have framed the study of slavery in the Americas for decades. The book investigates such topics as the illegal slave trade in Cuba, the Creole slave revolt in the U.S., and the debate between pro- and antislavery factions over the interstate slave trade in the South. Together, the authors offer fresh and provocative insights into the interrelations of capitalism, sovereignty, and slavery."

Book Chapter

Callahan, Ashley, ed. The Savannah River Valley up to 1865: Fine Arts, Architecture, and Decorative Arts. Athens: Georgia Museum of Art, 2003.

"On 26 August 1834, slaveholder David Murray placed an advertisement in a local newspaper from Wilkes County, Georgia, referring to two female runaway slaves: thirty-five- to forty-year-old Beck and her twenty-two- to twenty-three-year-old daughter Mariah. Though he provided adequate physical descriptions of the two women in terms of their height, hair, teeth, complexion, scars, and mannerisms, Murray made special notation of their clothing."

Journal Article

Ramey, Daina L. "'A Heap of Us Slaves:' Family and Community Life Among Slave Women in Georgia." Atlanta History: A Journal of Georgia and the South 44 (2000): 21-38.

"'The first thing I recollect is my love for my mother,' explained Adeline Willis, a former slave from Wilkes County, Georgia. 'I loved her so,' she continued, 'and would cry when I couldn't be with her.' The love and affection for her mother Adeline so vividly recalled, continued even after she married and had children of her own. Although her husband Lewis resided on an 'adjoining plantation,' she proudly testified he 'came to see me any time 'cause his Marster...give him a pass.' Adeline was fortunate to live on the same plantation with her mother and to marry a man whose master allowed him to visit her. However, not all female slaves had the same privileges."

Journal Article

Ramey, Daina L. "'She Do a Heap of Work': Female Slave Labor on Glynn County Rice and Cotton Plantations." The Georgia Historical Quarterly 82 (1998): 707-734.

"Oh my Missis! my missis! me neber sleep till day for de pain,' exclaimed Mile, the former slave mother of fifteen to her mistress Frances Kemble. Suffering from rheumatism, two miscarriages, and mourning the deaths of nine children, this female slave, like others, was forced to work in the fields daily. Slave women in Glynn County, Georgia, such as Mile, operated as central figures in the antebellum plantation work force. Their labor in the fields and the Big House functioned as an essential component to the maintenance of the plantation regime, especially during the decades preceding the Civil War. Masters and mistresses clearly articulated slave women's value through their agricultural and personal journals. Yet traditional assumptions about male physical prowess and skill have caused scholars to overlook female slaves' contributions."