The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 106, July 2002 - April, 2003

Book Reviews

greeted them with hostility and racist officers treated them with contempt.
Dobak and Phillips argue that such prejudice did not characterize the army as
an institution. Underfunded and facing wide-ranging responsibilities, the army
"could not afford to discriminate against them in matters of food, housing,
clothing, and equipment" (p. 280). The army made a special point of educating
black troops, and military tribunals meted out justice on an equal basis. While
true enough, these points fail to absolve the army of systemic discrimination. As
the authors admit, army officials implemented formal segregation three decades
before the southern states did so, and black regulars were barred by policy from
becoming commissioned officers. Black soldiers endured racist officers because
they were not allowed to command themselves. Such problems were institution-
al, not merely personal.
Interpretive matters aside, Black Regulars is well written and impressively re-
searched, and it stands as the single best book on black soldiers in the late nine-
teenth century. It should appeal to both scholars and lay readers, and it holds
special interest for students of military, western, and African American history.
Atlanta, Georgia J. Aaron Frith
Working Cures: Healing, Health and Power zn Southern Slave Plantations. By Sharla M.
Fett. (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 2002. Pp. xi-
ii+289. Preface, acknowledgments, introduction, conclusion, notes, bibliog-
raphy, index. ISBN 0-8078-2709-6. $39.95, cloth.)
In this well-written study of slave and slaveholder medical practices and per-
ceptions of health, Sharla Fett explores the "social relations of slave health and
healing" on antebellum plantations (p. 3). Rather than offering a medical histo-
ry of ailments and remedies, Fett is concerned with the relationships between
healers and sufferers, enslaved persons and slaveholders, and the communities
in which they coexist. She examines how enslaved men and women perceived in-
dividual health and healing within the collective milieu of family, ancestors, and
spirits. Pondering the cultural and political significance of black doctoring tradi-
tions, including herbalism, conjuring and midwifery, Fett argues that plantation
slave communities imagined a "relational vision of health" that viewed individual
health in the context of communal relationships, and that this vision diverged
from and conflicted with slaveholder objectification of slave health.
Drawing primarily upon materials from coastal Virginia, Georgia, and the Car-
olinas, Fett analyzes slave narratives, household remedy books, folklore collec-
tions, medical journals, plantation records and journals, diaries, and family
letters from plantations having twenty or more slaves. From these vast sources,
Fett weaves together an innovative analysis of black doctoring practices, reli-
gious beliefs, and notions of gender and race as interrelated elements of planta-
tion health and healing. In the first part of her book, she considers
slaveholders' and enslaved persons' divergent "visions of health," focusing on
notions of slave "soundness," religious belief, herbology and conjuring (p. 11).

645

2003

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 106, July 2002 - April, 2003. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101223/. Accessed July 14, 2014.