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 History Review   

Working Cures:  Healing, Health, and Power on Southern Slave Plantations
By Sharla M. Fett
University of North Carolina Press, 2002
Hardcover, $39.00 (304pp)
ISBN:  0807827096

Sharla M. Fett’s book, Working Cures:  Healing, Health, and Power on Southern Slave Plantations, explores the meanings, traditions, relations, and resistance associated with the healing practices of slaves on Southern plantations.  Fett deftly details her heavy subject with a scholarly presence and a narrative flair.  Her research, which includes fascinating first-person accounts, supports her claims that “enslaved men and women nevertheless asserted their relational definition of health in daily acts aimed at maintaining self and community.”   

Fett succeeds in demonstrating that the struggle over a slave’s health was a battleground within the plantation intricately related to commerce.  Female slaves seem to have tolerated the brunt of the clashes due to their duality as laborers and the bearers of children, as well as oftentimes becoming the caregivers to the ill. Fett skillfully explains the complex relationships among the planters, their families, slaves, physicians, and conjurers. 

To make a point, in her conclusion, Fett introduces the battle Audre Lorde, the poet and “passionate warrior for social justice,” fought—and lost—against breast cancer.  As throughout her book, Fett’s own passion is palpable:  “Lorde articulated a critical point in the history of African American health and healing.  Enslaved men and women also did not choose the conditions of their struggle.  On a daily basis they fought individually and collectively against a relentless assault on their humanity.” 

Working Cures is certainly required reading for anyone interested in southern slave plantations and the integral roles of the owners, the enslaved, their health and commerce.

Elizabeth King Humphrey
Southern Scribe Reviews

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