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Bridgewater, Pamela D. “Un/Re/Dis Covering Slave Breeding in Thirteenth Amendment Jurisprudence” 7, no. 1 (April 2001): 1–35.


In this article Patricia Bridgewater challenges the traditional narrative of slavery that focuses on forced labor. She contends that slavery was a gendered institution with women facing coerced labor, but also subject to exploitation in the form of forced sex and reproduction. Bridgewater uses slave breeding to highlight the insufficiencies of our understanding of the Thirteenth Amendment and argue that its application to reproductive issues would be enhanced by an understanding of the history of slave breeding. She defines slave breeding as a “systematic mode of enslavement which was based on the sexual and reproductive exploitation of female slaves made possible by force, coercion, and oppression—all done for the socio-economic uplift of slave owners.” With the prohibition of the international slave trade, slave breeding became both a profitable enterprise and a lifeline to sustain the institution of slavery. Bridgewater identifies a series of laws that were enacted to protect a slave owners’ access and rights to female slaves, including the “status-of-the-mother law,” which relegated the children of female slaves to the status of their mother, thus a child born into servitude would live their life in a state of servitude. In addition, there was no penalty or legal standing that prevented an owner from raping his slave. However, despite a legal framework that supported and protected slave owners’ rights over their female slaves, Bridgewater highlights important ways in which female slaves either prevented sexual encounters or prevented pregnancy. Bridgewater’s assessment of the ways slave breeding impacted and perpetuated slavery culminates in the discussion and creation of the Thirteenth Amendment. She contends that an analysis of the discussion undertaken by members of Congress demonstrates that they believed the sexual oppression and exploitation of female slaves was on par with other forms and conditions of slavery. However, court cases and civil rights laws after the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment omit this. Thus, Bridgewater concludes, “an integrated legal narrative that places slave breeding at the center of the conditions of slavery prohibited by the Thirteenth Amendment would indicate a true rebirth of the Amendment.” This article offers an incredible narrative that places the experiences of enslaved women at the forefront of the conditions of slavery. Un/Re/Dis Covering Slave Breeding is recommended for anyone interested in a gendered perspective of slavery. Further, it is suggested that the article be read in its entirety as the author begins with a history that provides the foundation of her critique of the Thirteenth Amendment. Truly a fascinating and straightforward read.  


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Legislation/policy   Government regulation   Race/ethnicity: African American/Black   Intersectionality   Human rights   Pregnancy   History