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Andrea Livesey is from Greater Manchester and is studying a PhD on the sexual abuse and exploitation of enslaved African Americans in the lower US South.
Andrea graduated from the University of Liverpool with a BA in Comparative American Studies and an MA in Atlantic History.
She is now working with Dr Stephen Kenny and Dr Michael Tadman in the Department of History to understand the scale and impact of sexual abuse and exploitation on enslaved African American women in Louisiana and Texas specifically.
In order to explore the topic Andrea is looking at the testimonies of former slaves.
Interviews with former slaves
She is conducting a quantitative analysis of a large number of interviews with former slaves carried out in the 1930s and combining this with a study of book-length autobiographies of former slaves, mainly published in the mid 19th century.
Andrea has attended a summer school at New York University where she was able to conduct research at the ‘Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture‘ in Harlem.
She has also spent some time at the University of New Orleans which gave her the opportunity to get to know the city that her research focuses on as well as gather additional resources from the archives there.
One of the autobiographies that Andrea is studying is the story of Solomon Northup, a free-born African American from New York who was drugged and kidnapped in 1841 when enticed with a job offer. He was sold to a plantation owner from Louisiana and after 12 years in bondage he managed to regain his freedom. Northup’s story is set to feature in a Hollywood film due to be released at the end of the year.
Solomon Northrup recorded numerous instances of sexual abuse of enslaved African American women
Andrea said: “In his autobiography, Solomon Northup relates numerous instances of sexual abuse of enslaved African American women.
“He mentions the light-skinned Eliza who was kept as an enslaved concubine by her master and bore him two children; all three were later put up for sale by the daughter of the man who abused her, the half sister of the children.
“He also discusses a woman who was sexually abused by her master, and mentally and physically abused by his jealous wife. In looking at the different sources for the project, it has been interesting to see how the former slaves relate the collective trauma of countless individual instances of sexual abuse in different periods and at different points in their lives. But, because of the sensitive nature of the topic, it is often what is left unsaid that is most revealing.
Neither family nor law for protection
“The real significance of my research comes from the the two levels of argument that I will put forward. Firstly, I have been able to get closer to understanding what it really meant to be an enslaved woman in this period who could rely on neither family nor the law for protection, and of course establish which survival strategies were put in place by African American communities to deal with this endemic sexual abuse.
“Secondly, I am closer to understanding exactly which conditions, social spaces and situations were, and possibly still are most conducive to the sexual abuse of women and create what could be called a ‘culture of abuse’ which undoubtedly existed in the nineteenth century South and of course has impact and relevance now, as much as ever.”
August 23rd is UNESCO International Slavery Remebrance Day for the slave trade and its abolition.
There is a programme of events being held at Liverpool Museums. To find out more, follow this link: http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/ism/srd/
Andrea, in case you read this, their is an interesting account much related to the subject at the beginning of the autobiography of the great New Orleans style soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet. The book is entitled “Treat it gentle”. I could lend it to you but unfortunately I have lost it.
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