Sherrod Bryant was a typical wealthy slave owner in Tennessee prior to the Civil War, but he differed from his slave-holding neighbors in one respect: he was black.
Today, the notion of a black man owning black slaves seems contradictory — Bryant himself was a free black — and perhaps even hypocritical. According to Bryant's descendants, however, their ancestor, who was never a slave, was simply following the normal pattern of life for a rich landowner in the Upper South.
"I think at some point some of the members (of the family) might not have looked upon it very favorably, but the more we discuss it, the more we suddenly realize that to gain wealth during that time, if you had a lot of property, you had to have slaves to help you cultivate it," said Carl Bryant, a fourth-generation descendant of Sherrod. [Link]