The Price for Their Pound of Flesh:
The Value of the Enslaved from Womb to Grave,
in the Building of a Nation
Boston: Beacon Press | 2017
The Price for Their Pound of Flesh is the first book to explore the economic value of enslaved people through every phase of their lives—including from before birth to after death—in the American domestic slave trades. Covering the full “life cycle” (including preconception, infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, the senior years, and death), historian Daina Berry shows the lengths to which slaveholders would go to maximize profits. She draws from over ten years of research to explore how enslaved people responded to being appraised, bartered, and sold. By illuminating their lives, Berry ensures that the individuals she studies are regarded as people, not merely commodities. Analyzing the depth of this monetization of human property will change the way we think about slavery, reparations, capitalism, and nineteenth-century medical education.
“Daina Ramey Berry’s harrowing account of how slaveholders turned every aspect of a slave’s life into a commodity to be sold on markets—from the reproductive possibilities of enslaved women to the corpses of deceased slaves—is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding American history, or our contemporary dilemmas.”
“Daina Berry has written the richest account of the many ways in which an enslaved African American’s body was bought and sold throughout her or his lifetime. From the cradle to the grave and beyond, enslavers priced black bodies based on their imagined fitness for labor, sexual exploitation, use as collateral, and even their value after death as dissection cadavers. In horrific detail, Berry shows that there was a price tag placed on every pound of flesh. She also shows the efforts of enslaved people to assert that their lives had values beyond the money that could be rendered from their muscles and extracted from their bones. Out of the certainty that their souls were pearls beyond price, black people fought to make room for their own system of human values.”