Mission & Language
The Last Seen Project's mission is twofold. First, we are committed to locating “Information Wanted” and “Lost Friends” advertisements and making them freely available and easily discoverable for the descendants of the enslaved people named in them. Second, we work with educators to bring these materials into the K-12 classrooms where students can learn U.S. history from the voices of those who survived slavery and America’s domestic slave trade.
We have adopted the Language of Slavery from the National Park Service that emphasizes the humanity of the enslaved people caught in the institution of slavery and the choices others made to participate, assist, or resist.
Toward that end, we use enslaved person in place of “slave,” because it “more accurately describes someone who was forced to perform labor or services against their will under threat of physical mistreatment, separation from family or loved ones, or death.” The term enslaved person emphasizes personhood and “clarifies that humanity was at the center of identity while also recognizing that this person was forcibly placed into the condition of slavery by another person or group.”
While they referred to themselves as “masters” or “owners”—and so did enslaved people in their advertisements—we use the term enslaver. In the past, the hierarchical terms “master” or “owner” communicated enslavers’ “sense of natural authority” that derived from their superiority. Enslaver acknowledges the individual’s choice to exert “power over those kept in bondage.”
For more see:
“Underground Railroad,” National Park Service, [Accessed 08/18/2023] https://www.nps.gov/subjects/undergroundrailroad/language-of-slavery.htm
P. Gabrielle Foreman, et al. “Writing about Slavery/Teaching About Slavery: This Might Help” community-sourced document, [Accessed 08/18/2023] https://naacpculpeper.org/resources/writing-about-slavery-this-might-help/