Marriage, like family, has been a contested term in African American historical, sociological, and cultural studies. This essay surveys and interrogates the dominant literature on black intimacy, coupling, and family life in the slave community from the publication of E. Franklin Frazier’s influential study The Negro Family in the United States in 1939 to the recent appearance of Tera Hunter’s monumental monograph Bound in Wedlock: Slave and Free Black Marriage in the Nineteenth Century. Critiquing the masculinist bend of much of this scholarship, “Blacks of the Marrying Kind” argues that historicizing “the way they were”—that is, examining the manner in which the earliest African Americans lived and loved—is less a matter of how captive communities experienced intimacy than of who gets to interpret and codify their experience, of who gets to say how the past means. In addressing this distinction, the essay reads revisionist scholarship from the mid- to late twentieth century, including the work of Kenneth Stamp, Stanley Elkins, Eugene Genovese, and Herbert Gutman, alongside the newer interventions of contemporary feminist theorists such as Hortense Spillers, Saidiya Hartman, Christina Sharpe, and Tera Hunter.

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