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Reviewed by:
  • Closer to Freedom: Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South
  • Deborah Gray White
Closer to Freedom: Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South. By Stephanie M. H. Camp (Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 2004) 206 pp. $34.96 cloth $12.89 paper

Closer to Freedom is premised on the idea that masters and slaves used space differently, that there were black spaces and white spaces that represented "rival geographies." Camp adapts this term, used by Said and geographers to describe resistance to colonial occupation, for the plantation South where the enslaved perpetually challenged their enslavers' control of time, space, and movement.1 Playing with the double entendre of the concept of place, Camp explains that whites' "social place" was predicated on the control of black movement and the containment of blacks to particular spaces. In Closer to Freedom, slave resistance is understood as "mobility in the face of constraint" (7). [End Page 298]

For Camp, not only did the rhythms of the plantation have everything to do with the ways that blacks and whites used time, space, and place differently so did the different ways that enslaved men and women challenged white mastery of plantation geographies. Given that the woods, swamps, and slave cabins were spaces where the enslaved could exercise more autonomy than the fields and other open spaces on the plantation, bonded men had more autonomy than women because the latter were more confined to the plantation. Building on existing research of absenteeism, Camp's discussion of women as truants and truancy facilitators deepens our understanding of resistance as both an individual and collective endeavor. She argues forcefully that although men comprised the majority of runaways and truants, the role that women played in providing food and information made these two forms of resistance individual and collective at the same time, and gave bonded men and women more control of the southern landscape than whites ever wanted them to have.

Intriguing and interesting is Camp's treatment of the body as space. According to Camp, imagining the enslaved body in space allows us to see how the enslaved "claimed, animated, politicized, personalized and enjoyed their bodies" (62). Blacks took their bodies to religious ceremonies and other surreptitious gatherings, and women, in particular, adorned and used their bodies in ways that allowed them to become instruments of self-expressive style. Although this part of Camp's argument might have benefited from a fuller explication of the interaction of mind, body, and soul, Camp argues insightfully that the enslaved had at least three bodies: one that the enslaver dominated, one that processed and endured that domination, and another that the enslaved claimed and enjoyed—the contested site between the enslaver and the enslaved.

The concept of rival geographies works well when applied to the Civil War and Jim Crow era. According to Camp, the Civil War disrupted the spatial arrangements of slavery; blacks and whites, men and women were all both figuratively and literally "out of place," enabling and increasing black resistance to white domination. By the time Closer to Freedom arrives at the Jim Crow era, Camp has laid the foundation for her description of segregation as "a modern, state-sponsored response to an old problem" (140). Built on established habits, Camp concludes that "segregation seems as much tradition in a new form as a modern break from it" (140).

Closer to Freedom queries some old questions in new ways and gives deeper analysis to what is already on record. Regrettably, the domestic slave trade, with all of its movement through the southern countryside, is nowhere to be found in this study of movement, place, and space.

Deborah Gray White
Rutgers University


1. Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (New York, 1993).



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pp. 298-299
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