They Played Pranks To Resist The Surveillance Of Enslavement

Zain Murdock
May 3, 2023

Slave patrols were created in response to enslaved people resisting. But that didn’t stop Black people from rebelling against them. And it was even a little funny.

“We had fun in them days, in spite of everything,” remembered an enslaved man named Berry Smith in Mississippi. He described the way they used to resist the patrollers, from tying ropes across bridges to trip them on their horses, to fiddling and dancing in their absence. 

Other enslaved people built trap doors to escape their cabins, or successfully played innocent when patrollers caught them.

The formerly enslaved Lewis Clarke openly called patrollers “the very fool’s cap of baboons…[l]ike starved wharf rats.” Another popular song teased, “Marsa run, but nigger run faster.” 

Patrollers were supposed to be intimidating, but Black folks made them the butt of the joke.

Today, we still resist anti-Blackness with a bit of humor, too. Funny memes and protest signs make us laugh, but keep us informed. People shade and insult the police they record on camera. There’s even a whole genre of anti-racist comedy.

So yes, enslaved ancestors resisted enslavement to protect each other. But they, like us, were also human. And it’s human to find pockets of joy and humor as we fight anti-Black systems together in our communities. It keeps us going.

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