This illustration is titled "The Hunted Slave", painting by Richard Ansdell. I grew up with a large black and white lithograph of it hanging in the hallway of our upstate New York home. It gave a face to the oral history of enslaved black peoples here in the land of the free and home of the brave. "The Hunted Slave" had an early influence on my understanding of what it means to be black men in America.
The illustration shows a strong and fearless black man fighting off a pack of vicious hunting dogs with an ax. A dangling wrist cuff suggests the man has broken the shackles of slavery and is forging through the dismal swamp toward freedom for himself and his mulatto woman. A vivid image of survival and endurance against all odds is what I imagine the message to be. I believe if you look hard enough you'll see a fourth hound lurking in the tall grass.
As a child the illustration made me wonder about my ancestors and their trek from the south to the north. What hounds of human oppression had they fought off to make it out of a land that practiced ownership of black chattel? As an adult I look at the illustration and understand the hounds to be the weapons of a people and ideas more vicious and biting than any attacking dogs. And today I am proud to carry the blood of such courageous men and women who struggled against slavery and endured so that someday their offspring could drink from the fountain of freedom.
Out of the Shadows
Slavery and the Making of America
Slavery by Another Name