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The Delectable Negro

Human Consumption and Homoeroticism within US Slave Culture

Vincent Woodard

Publication Year: 2014

Scholars of US and transatlantic slavery have largely ignored or dismissed accusations that Black Americans were cannibalized. Vincent Woodard takes the enslaved person’s claims of human consumption seriously, focusing on both the literal starvation of the slave and the tropes of cannibalism on the part of the slaveholder, and further draws attention to the ways in which Blacks experienced their consumption as a fundamentally homoerotic occurrence. The Delectable Negro explores these connections between homoeroticism, cannibalism, and cultures of consumption in the context of American literature and US slave culture.

Utilizing many staples of African American literature and culture, such as the slave narratives of OlaudahEquiano, Harriet Jacobs, and Frederick Douglass, as well as other less circulated materials like James L. Smith’s slave narrative, runaway slave advertisements, and numerous articles from Black newspapers published in the nineteenth century, Woodard traces the racial assumptions, political aspirations, gender codes, and philosophical frameworks that dictated both European and white American arousal towards Black males and hunger for Black male flesh. Woodard uses these texts to unpack how slaves struggled not only against social consumption, but also against endemic mechanisms of starvation and hunger designed to break them. He concludes with an examination of the controversial chain gang oral sex scene in Toni Morrison’s Beloved, suggesting that even at the end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first century, we are still at a loss for language with which to describe Black male hunger within a plantation culture of consumption.

Published by: NYU Press


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Title Page, Series Page, Copyright Page

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pp. v-vi

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Editor’s Note

Justin A. Joyce

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pp. vii-x

I never had the chance to meet Vincent Woodard personally. Working through someone’s scholarship backward and forward for nearly five years, however, gives you a type of intimate knowledge of the working of his or her mind. From both his work and the reminiscences of his friends, I feel I’ve come to know something of him ...

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pp. xi-xii

The Delectable Negro is a provocative reading of race relations vis-à-vis an almost indiscernible homoeroticism in the nineteenth century. According to Woodard, such homoeroticism was always already there, but “our contemporary framing of homosexuality has obscured our vision.” ...

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Introduction: “Master . . . eated me when I was meat”

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pp. 1-28

In the summer of 2007, I visited Somerset Place in Creswell, North Carolina.1 At one point, Somerset Place, a historically restored plantation, was the most successful plantation in North Carolina and its owner, Josiah Collins III, one of the largest slaveholders in the state. ...

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1. Cannibalism in Transatlantic Context

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pp. 29-58

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Europeans did not understand the extent to which western and central Africans regarded them as cannibals and flesh harvesters. In an 1849 exchange between Augustino (an African-born slave) and the Select Committee of the House of Lords, ...

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2. Sex, Honor, and Human Consumption

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pp. 59-94

Lilburn Lewis, a Kentucky slave owner, owned a considerable number of slaves whom he “drove constantly, fed sparingly, and lashed severely,” according to abolitionist Lydia Maria Child.1 Lewis was a typical plantation owner whom most in the local community probably respected and looked to as a model wealthy citizen in terms of his treatment of his slaves. ...

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3. A Tale of Hunger Retold: Ravishment and Hunger in F. Douglass’s Life and Writing

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pp. 95-126

Frederick Douglass described slavery, more eloquently than anyone else has, as a cannibalistic institution. In images striking and poetically resonant, he depicted slavery in the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave as a personified “stern reality, glaring frightfully upon us,—its robes already crimsoned with the blood of millions, and even now feasting itself greedily upon our own flesh.”1 ...

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4. Domestic Rituals of Consumption

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pp. 127-170

David Walker, a major black abolitionist figure, acknowledged the capacity of slavery to consume black bodies and souls. In Walker’s Appeal, Walker depicts a plantation reality where black men suffer emasculation. They can neither protect their wives and children nor can they themselves escape the all-encompassing power of whites whose malicious hunger, ...

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5. Eating Nat Turner

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pp. 171-208

Most people do not readily associate Nat Turner, the heroic figure and slave insurrectionist, with the themes of auto-cannibalism (self-consumption), white male consumptive desires, or homoeroticism. These themes, however, strongly informed how Southampton, Virginia, whites punished Turner and treated his corpse after his public lynching. ...

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6. The Hungry Nigger

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pp. 209-240

At the end of the twentieth century, black gay men began to bravely articulate and embody a suppressed history and politics of the black, male orifice. For example, Essex Hemphill’s brazen anal-erotic manifesto, “Loyalty,” marked a historic moment in black sexual politics and cultural recovery. ...


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pp. 241-288


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pp. 289-302


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pp. 303-308

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About the Author, About the Editor

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pp. 309-311

Vincent Woodard (1971–2008) was Assistant Professor of English at the University of Colorado–Boulder. He received his PhD in American Studies and English from the University of Texas, Austin. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9781479815807
E-ISBN-10: 1479815802
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814794616
Print-ISBN-10: 0814794610

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 879610632
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Delectable Negro

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Slaves -- Southern States -- Social conditions.
  • African American men -- Southern States -- Social conditions.
  • Plantation life -- Southern States -- History.
  • Starvation -- Social aspects -- Southern States -- History.
  • Cannibalism -- Social aspects -- Southern States -- History.
  • Consumption (Economics) -- Social aspects -- Southern States -- History.
  • Male homosexuality -- Social aspects -- Southern States -- History.
  • Slavery in literature.
  • African American men in literature.
  • American literature -- African American authors -- History and criticism.
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