Black Elders: The Meaning of Age in American Slavery and Freedom

Univ. of Pennsylvania. Feb. 2024. 248p. ISBN 9781512825664. $39.95. HIST
With an eye on aging, Knight (history, Morehouse Coll.; Working the Diaspora) lays out the life course of enslaved people in the United States. Packed with examples harvested primarily from plantation records, public documents, and church archives, his work describes how old age shaped social relations among Black people from colonial times through the Civil War and Reconstruction. His book shows that enslaved and emancipated Black people organized their interactions around age and that elders served as vital community figures. Such respect reflected West African cultural heritages and the pushback against enslavers’ practices of separating kith and kin and depreciating aging Black people. The Home for the Aged and Infirm Colored Persons, founded in Philadelphia in 1864, exemplified continuing Black communities of care and concern for older relatives and friends.
VERDICT A readily accessible read for all interested in the chronic, painful, physical, and mental battles that marked the daily lives of enslaved and emancipated Black people approaching the end of life, reckoning with their prospects, and reflecting on their mortality. This book centers elders, their roles, and day-to-day class and gender relations and demonstrates how Black communities cared for each other as they tried to maintain material and moral intergenerational bonds during and immediately after the era of enslavement.
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