Black Collaboration during American Slavery


This chapter discusses the role of Black informers during American slavery. It considers whether Blacks who informed during ante-bellum slavery are worthy of condemnation and blame. During the ante-bellum era, Black informants were vital to the maintenance of the institution of slavery. Multiple factors – some internal and others external – probably influenced whether Blacks informed. Weighing in favour of informing were loyalty to one’s owner, preservation of one’s life or status, communal self-regulation, attainment of liberty or criminal leniency, and financial reward. In contrast, communal solidarity, resistance ethic, fear of retaliation, and protection of others countenanced not informing. The impact of religious conviction depended on the individual or circumstance. Today, some view these informants as traitors to their race. However, viewing their situation and behaviour through Claudia Card’s theory of the ‘grey zone’ of evils and atrocities complicates a tendency toward strident conclusions. As both victims and perpetrators of slavery, Black informants, Dennis claims, operated in a grey zone. In this ethical space in between, and especially in retrospect, it is difficult to label them either as fully responsible moral agents or as wholly unaccountable survivors.