Daina Ramey Berry

The Price for Their Pound of Flesh

The Value of the Enslaved, from Womb to Grave, in the Building of a Nation

Beacon Press 2017

New Books in African American StudiesNew Books in American StudiesNew Books in EconomicsNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in SociologyNew Books Network April 5, 2017 James Stancil

A profoundly humane look at an inhumane institution, The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, from Womb to Grave,...

A profoundly humane look at an inhumane institution, The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, from Womb to Grave, in the Building of a Nation (Beacon Press, 2017) will have a major impact how we think about slavery, reparations, capitalism, nineteenth-century medical education, and the value of life and death. Slaves were commodities, their monetary value assigned based on their age, gender, health, and the demands of the market. This is the first book to explore the economic value of enslaved people through every phase of their lives including preconception, infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, the senior years, and death in the early American domestic slave trade.

Covering the full life cycle, historian and author Daina Ramey Berry shows the lengths to which enslavers would go to maximize profits and protect their investments. Illuminating ghost values or the prices placed on dead enslaved people, Berry also explores the little-known domestic cadaver trade and traces the illicit sales of dead bodies to medical schools. This book is the culmination of more than ten years of Berry’s exhaustive research on enslaved values, drawing on data unearthed from sources such as slave-trading records, insurance policies, cemetery records, and life insurance policies. Writing with sensitivity and depth, Ramey Berry resurrects the voices of the enslaved and provides a rare window into enslaved people’s experiences and thoughts, revealing how enslaved people recalled and responded to being appraised, bartered, and sold throughout the course of their lives.

Daina Ramey Berry is an associate professor of history and African and African diaspora studies, and the Oliver H. Radkey Regents Fellow in History at the University of Texas at Austin. An award-winning historian, she is also a Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians. Dr. Berry’s research interests include 19th century American History, Comparative Slavery, and Southern History, with a particular emphasis on the role of gender, labor, family, and economy among the enslaved. Her previous book-length works include Slavery and Freedom in Savannah, Enslaved Women in America: An Encyclopedia, and Swing the Sickle for the Harvest is Ripe: Gender and Slavery in Antebellum Georgia. Ramey Berry also appeared on the first season finale of the NBC series Who Do You Think You Are? she assisted Hollywood legend Spike Lee in tracing his family ancestry with some very surprising results.


James Stancil is an independent scholar, freelance journalist, and the President and CEO of Intellect U Well, Inc. a Houston-area non-profit dedicated to increasing the joy of reading and media literacy in young people.

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