What’s a Birthday to a Slave?

I am excited! I turned 30 last week. I love my birthday as most people do. I love the fact that I lived to see another year. I love getting the occasional birthday card and being celebrated by a few. It’s great! But with my line of work and doing what I do, I’ve started to think about what the slaves would have done to celebrate a birthday. There had to be some mixed emotions there for mothers and fathers bringing children into the world knowing that they would belong to someone else. What do you say to the field hand who doesn’t get a break from their tasks on their “special day”? I highly doubt that overseers were concerned with making sure that Paul got to pick 50lbs instead of 100lbs of cotton because it was his birthday.

Would fathers who lived on different plantations bring a small piece of candy for their child on their birthday, or whenever it was the next time they got permission to visit? Would mothers put a little extra molasses on those hoecakes? I’m sure there were ways that slave families recognized birthdays but like so many other aspects of slave life, I wonder why we don’t hear much about it. Surely there are a few accounts out there that talk about it.

While I will certainly celebrate this milestone in my life and the passing of another year, I’ll think about those who may not have found a reason to celebrate or those who thought, this time next year, I’m going to be free, making me even more grateful for the place in time to which I was born.

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