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The Book of Negroes - Race, Power, and Freedom of Speech Essay

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The Book of Negroes

Race, Power, and Freedom of Speech Essay

By: Felipe Azevedo


African`s were treated horribly for hundreds of years, and most had little control over their actions. They were slaves; taught to obey everything their master said, or else a punishment was given. From a young age, slaves were taught who their slave owners are and the power they had over them. In The Book of Negroes, Aminata Diallo is a slave in the 1700 and 1800s, and learned what a slave is at a very young age, when she witnessed the death of her parents, was taken away from her village, and saw all of the other slaves around her, being taken away from their homes and villages. In her life, she experienced the beatings that slaves would receive from not listening to their masters, had her child taken away and sold to the slave market, and eventually went back to Africa to witness the slave trade once again. When Aminata was a child, she learned that she was a slave because of her colour, where she came from, and knew she had no control over that. She had learned what she did have control over, and used that to leverage her in life. She learned that as a slave, she is not allowed to speak whenever she felt like, or express her opinion, or else she’d receive a punishment. If a slave ignored their master’s order or did something they were not instructed to do, they’d receive a punishment, such as having their hair cut away from them. Aminata learned that although the slave owners contained a lot of power, they could not completely control the slave’s actions and speech.


        Aminata spoke to the other slaves, and occasionally, to white people, but if she spoke out of turn, or when she wasn’t supposed to, she’d receive a punishment. While travelling to the Toubab ships from Africa, on the medicine man’s ship, while travelling to St Helena, or anywhere else that she went, she would attempt to speak to the other slaves. She wanted to learn who they were, where they were from, and if they spoke to same language as Aminata.  

While on the Medicine man’s ship, Aminata was allowed to wander around the ship during the day, speak to the other slaves and captors, however, she was ordered to stay in the Medicine man’s room overnight. Aminata was ordered to sleep in the same bed as the medicine man, would feel the bed rocking, and would hear the screams and moans between the medicine man and the black women he was raping nightly. Aminata was capable of speaking to the medicine man, and could have tried to stop what he was doing because she knew it was wrong, but did not, in fear of repercussions.

While travelling to St Helena, Aminata would walk by other slaves, and attempt to talk to them. Every time Aminata attempted to talk to the passing slaves, her temporary slave owner would look at her, in a way to get her to stop talking. On the second day of walking, Aminata passed by Nyeba, a women from the village of Sikasso, and tried to learn as much about the women as quickly as possible. While talking to Nyeba about where they were both from, the slave owner got off of his cart, and walked angrily toward Aminata. On page 120, Nyeba warned Aminata of the slave owner and said “Go,” Nyeba said, “or you will be beaten”, but Aminata kept talking, which led the slave transporter yell and to pull on the rope around Aminata’s head. He did this to show that he was in control of her, but that did not stop her from attempting to talk to other slaves on the journey to St Helena. Although the slave transporter tried to stop Aminata from speaking, she continued to do so on her journey to St Helena, because she knew that she was in control of her speech, he could only cause her physical pain.  

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As a slave, Aminata never had complete control over her actions. If she disobeyed her master, or performed the wrong thing, she would receive a punishment, such as having her hair forcibly cut away from her. On pages 175 to 179, Aminata received a punishment which affected her for the rest of her life, and it was because Aminata disobeyed Appleby’s orders. She conceived of her first child with Chekura, a black slave, not owned by Appleby. As said by Mr. Appleby on page 176, “I make the decisions around here about breeding”, and by Aminata having the baby with Chekura, Appleby felt like he did not contain as much power over her as he did in the past, so he retaliated. He showed her, and everyone else on the plantation, that he is the one in charge and the decision maker, and if someone disobeyed, they’d suffer the consequences. He did this by first gathering everyone around a large fire that he had created, and ordered Georgia to bring every piece of Aminata’s clothing. Appleby ordered Aminata to remove all of her clothing, but she refused, so he tore all of it away, and threw it on the ground. He then ordered her to throw all of her clothing that was on the ground into the fire, and she refused. Appleby ordered Georgia to throw all of Aminata’s fancy clothing into the fire, so Georgia did, to create a lesser of a punishment in the end. Lastly, Appleby forced Aminata to lean over a barrel, after Aminata refused to, and cut away all of her hair with scissors and a knife, in front of everyone from the plantation. Appleby did all of that to prove the point that he is the one in power, and felt like he had accomplished something useful by the end of it. By Aminata refusing all of Appleby’s orders, she had shown Appleby and everyone else that although he contained the most power, he did not contain complete control over anyone, and that slaves still did contain some power over themselves and their actions.  

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