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What did the blind slaves do?
February 15, 2010 12:14 PM   Subscribe

In the U.S. slavery system, how did blind slaves work?
posted by coizero to Society & Culture (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
The Blind African Slave, found after 15 seconds on Google.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 12:38 PM on February 15, 2010


You might be interested in this book. Also, there was a famous piano player who was a blind slave and learned to play by ear. i'm sure someone here will know who I'm talking about.
posted by Think_Long at 12:39 PM on February 15, 2010


Sometimes they were musicians. In many cases people who were kept as slaves were also responsibile for maintaining their own households, gardens and land. Im not sure why you think someone who was blind and enslaved might have a lack of ability to work any more than blind non-enslaved people. You can read a lot more about personal account of slavery at the Library of Congress Slave Narratives project.
posted by jessamyn at 12:43 PM on February 15, 2010


there was a famous piano player who was a blind slave and learned to play by ear

Not sure if this is who you mean, but from Encyclopedia Britannica: "How a blind, autistic slave boy made White House history"

"Blind Tom" was born Thomas Greene, died Thomas Wiggins, and for much of the time in between, was known as Thomas Bethune...By the time he arrived in Washington in the summer of 1860, he had been sold on the auction block by a master unwilling to shoulder a "useless burden," installed in the Big House under the watchful eye of another master who saw in him the stirrings of a musical prodigy and licensed out to a Barnum-style showman who touted him as "The Wonder of the World; The Marvel of the Age."

...As well as a flawless memory, he had an all-consuming passion for sound and a mind-boggling ability to replicate--musically and vocally--anything he heard. Thunderstorms were a particular favorite, as were banjos, fiddles, politicians and trains.

The showman who peddled him insisted that Tom had been a perfectly formed musician from the moment he first touched the piano and could reproduce the most difficult works after a single hearing. This was a partial truth; even after years of music tuition, Tom struggled to reproduce complex polymorphic concertos after one listen. (He needed an entire afternoon to accomplish that.) But if presented with a recognizable harmony--a polka, waltz, slave song or minstrel hit-young Tom could easily nail it. As the surge of applause hit his ear, he would howl back at the audience and handspring across the stage. Those lucky enough to attend the private viewing at Washington's Willard Hotel had never seen anything like him.

posted by sallybrown at 12:45 PM on February 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


And here's his Wikipedia entry and a biography of him, if you're interested.
posted by sallybrown at 12:52 PM on February 15, 2010


Also, there was a famous piano player who was a blind slave and learned to play by ear. i'm sure someone here will know who I'm talking about.

On preview, sallybrown got it... Yeah, it was "Blind" Tom Wiggins. According to Wikipedia, he "could not perform work normally demanded of slaves," so he was "was left to play and explore the Bethune plantation." He went around absorbing sounds -- people playing piano, the rain falling, etc. -- and used this as the inspiration for his music. According to blindtom.org, it was an extraordinary stroke of luck that he wasn't simply killed for being blind.

So, if the above information is accurate, then the first answer -- that they worked "like everyone else" -- isn't. I certainly wouldn't assume that slave owners behaved in the politically correct ways we would have liked them to behave toward their slaves.
posted by Jaltcoh at 12:52 PM on February 15, 2010


I imagine sewing would be something a blind person person do. I remember Mary sewing in the Little House on the Prairie books when she was blind, and even commenting that she could do it when the light was poor.

My former boss (we work at history place) found a newspaper article from the Jim Crow period that talked about a former blind slave who chopped wood. The article made the blindness seem like a feature because the slave could work at night too (really!).
posted by marxchivist at 2:03 PM on February 15, 2010


The Blind African Slave, found after 15 seconds on Google.

After some more seconds on Google, I found that the blind African slave did not become blind until late in his life.
posted by alligatorman at 2:46 PM on February 15, 2010


Certainly there were many crafts and chores that they could do sitting.

Slaves who went blind as adults or older children could certainly help in the kitchen by peeling foods or picking over peas, shucking corn, even washing up. Women could sew or braid straw for hats, men might whittle or polish metal or be used as "horsepower" on a turnspit or other human powered device.

Those born blind might have some skill in an area such as music, or assistance from their family to learn how to do simple things around the house or yard, or even in the field. They might not pick cotton very quickly, but they would certainly find something to do. Their life depended on it.
posted by Jinx of the 2nd Law at 7:40 PM on February 15, 2010


Im not sure why you think someone who was blind and enslaved might have a lack of ability to work any more than blind non-enslaved people.

Unless this question somehow got edited after it was asked, I don't see anything in the OP's very brief post which supports this claim. In fact, the title suggests exactly the opposite: "What did the blind slaves do?"
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 9:23 PM on February 15, 2010


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