Abstract

This article investigates stories of human flight in the folklore of enslaved men and women throughout the plantation Americas, and especially along the coastal regions of Georgia and South Carolina where examples abound of Africans taking flight and returning to an African homeland, more than an ocean away. The ubiquity of these stories and their persistence even after the era of slavery reveal a lasting search for a sanctuary away from the horrors of plantation life and racial oppression. This tradition of flight posed a serious threat not only to slavery, which demanded ultimate control over the Black body, but also to evangelical religion and Enlightenment rationalism that conspired to support slavery in the first place. The flying African embodies a kind of resistance par excellence by asserting that enslaved men and women were not ultimately bound to chain or shackle, but were instead free to challenge the constraints of slavery and the very limits of human capability. In addition, this article interrogates stories of flying Africans as a way of addressing some of the vexed epistemological problems that these stories raise for scholars.

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