A Snitch in Time: An Historical Sketch of Black Informing During Slavery

57 Pages Posted: 22 Sep 2013 Last revised: 1 Oct 2015

See all articles by Andrea Dennis

Andrea Dennis

University of Georgia School of Law

Date Written: September 1, 2013


This article sketches the socio-legal creation, use, and regulation of informants in the Black community during slavery and the Black community’s response at that time. Despite potentially creating benefits such as crime control and sentence reduction, some Blacks today are convinced that cooperation with government investigations and prosecutions should be avoided. One factor contributing to this perspective is America’s reliance on Black informants to police and socially control Blacks during slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Wars on Drugs, Crime and Gangs. Notwithstanding this historical justification for non-cooperation, only a few informant law and policy scholars have examined closely the Black community’s relationship with informing. Furthermore, even among this small group of works, noticeably absent are historical explorations of Black America’s experience with informing during slavery. Drawn using a variety of primary and secondary historical and legal sources, this article develops a snapshot of the past revealing many similarities between the Black experience with informing both while enslaved and in contemporary times. Consideration of these resemblances during present debate on the topic may help to facilitate nuanced conversation as to whether and how the modern Black community and government should approach using informants in current times.

Keywords: slavery, civil rights, informing, snitching, criminal law, informants, slave

JEL Classification: K14

Suggested Citation

Dennis, Andrea, A Snitch in Time: An Historical Sketch of Black Informing During Slavery (September 1, 2013). Marquette Law Review, Vol. 97, 2014, Forthcoming, UGA Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2013-25, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2325665

Andrea Dennis (Contact Author)

University of Georgia School of Law ( email )

225 Herty Drive
Athens, GA 30602
United States
706-542-3130 (Phone)

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics