The Many Ways Enslaved Black People Created Their Own Reproductive Justice

illustration of a plant stem
Zain Murdock
September 11, 2023

When many think about reproductive health during enslavement, sexual abuse, early white gynecology, and anti-Black profit comes up. But what about resistance?

Despite enslavers’ beliefs, Black women refused to see themselves as objects for reproduction. Instead, they humanized themselves and prioritized their health. Many used traditional African methods like medicinal herbs to manage their menstrual cycle or induce abortions as opposed to European techniques. 

They innovated new ways to protect themselves, too.

When they could, some couples remained abstinent or developed contraceptives to prevent bringing children into enslavement. Slaveholders had to ban cotton root after women on plantations began chewing it to prevent or end pregnancies. Some may have even pretended to be pregnant to outsmart enslavers and minimize their workloads.

 And we can’t forget others who struggled with fertility and sought help to be able to bear children. They were resisting, too - bringing children into the world on their terms because they desired a family to love, not because enslavers would benefit.

Though we may not see it in history books, this resistance reminds us that even the most marginalized practiced agency and power. Enslavement was designed to disempower, but our ancestors were the authority on their own values and beliefs.

And for centuries since, innovation and advocacy in reproductive health have been, and will continue to be, our history.