tagged with: slavery

I feel a tinge of sadness as this Black History month comes to a close. As an immigrant, I knew nothing about celebrating black history until I came to this country, and the fact that a month was set aside to remember the achievements and struggles of black people in this country filled me with excitement.

Black History month was a time when we focused on the achievements rather than the struggles. We listened to and marveled at the eloquence, of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the bravery and courage of Rosa Parks, Sojourner Truth, and others like them.

The White House, Washington, D.C. USA”Diego Delso, delso.photo, License CC-BY-SA

We wore our beautiful African dresses to church and sang our favorite negro spirituals, and some of the young people would read poems by Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes and others.

Then came 2020 and along with all the mayhem taking place in the world — the Jan 6 insurrection, climate change, mass shootings, COVID-19 — things began changing. Later came the banning of books, mostly those written by African American writers, and now comes the shocking pronouncement that the teaching of African American history in schools has “no educational value.”

No educational value? The history of a people who were brought here over four hundred years ago, forced to work as slaves, beaten and humiliated at the whim of their masters and literally treated like animals has no education value? But despite the harsh conditions under which they existed, these enslaved people built some of our iconic landmarks, among them the White House and the US Capitol.

Then once freed, the slaves went on to use their God-ordained creativity and skill in every area of American endeavor. They became lawyers, doctors, singers, dancers, writers, pilots, astronauts, and inventors to name a few. They fought in wars to defend this country at home and abroad and some, like Frederick Douglass, even became abolitionists.

These accomplishments were by no means painless. With emancipation came Jim Crow, a nefarious legal and social system of segregation designed to separate white and black and literally keep “blacks in their place.”

Through “blood, sweat, and tears,” African Americans overcame these horrendous conditions, but the struggle never ended completely. African Americans still have to fight for equality in healthcare, for equal pay, and even for voting rights. And now even our history is in danger of being wiped out.

In the beginning of this post, I said I feel a tinge of sadness as Black History month comes to a close, but judging from the tenacity and resilience of the former slaves and all they have overcome, I feel a sense of hope. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, I believe “we too shall overcome.”

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Harriet Jacobs Wikimedia commons

A tribute to Harriet Jacobs

March is Women’s History Month. Sandwiched between Black History Month (February) and Sexual Assault Awareness Month (April), March is devoted to recognizing and paying tribute to women who, by their sacrifice and accomplishments, helped to shape our history. With this in mind, I searched for someone who would fit both profiles and came up with Harriet Jacobs, author of Incidents in the Life of A Slave Girl.

Introduction to slavery

Harriet Jacobs was born a slave in 1813, but as a young child she was unaware she was a slave because her masters treated her kindly and taught her to read and write. It was only when she was bequeathed to new owners, that Harriet experienced cruelty and sexual exploitation. Her new master Dr. Flint tried to force her into a sexual relationship, but she resisted him and instead consented to a relationship with a white neighbor in the hope of being protected from Dr. Flint. Harriet bore two children and, in order to escape Dr. Flint and protect her children, hid in her grandmother’s cabin. It would be seven years before she escaped to New York where she reunited with her daughter in Brooklyn.

Harriet’s writing journey

Harriet began publishing her book Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl in serial form in the New York Tribune, but her accounts of sexual abuse were considered too shocking for readers at that time and so the publication ended. Phillips and Samson, a Boston publishing house, offered to publish the manuscript in book form if Harriet could get either Nathaniel Parker Willis, writer and publisher, or Harriet Beecher Stowe, abolitionist author, to write a preface. This didn’t work out and eventually abolitionist Lydia Maria Child agreed. Child also edited the book. In 1861, Harriet published Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl under the pseudonym Linda Brent, using fictitious names in the book to protect herself and her family.

Harriet Beecher Stowe Wikimedia Commons

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl was a groundbreaking work at that time as it highlighted the cruelties of slavery and sexual assault against women. More than a century later, the contents of this book still resonate with women everywhere as we grapple with the increased incidents of sexual assault, separation of families and racial inequality in our society. I recommend this book as a gripping and sobering read for Women’s History Month.

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Image by dbking via Flickr


In honor of black history month, I have been featuring African Americans, past and present, who have distinguished themselves in the field of literature. However, this week’s post is not about an African American, but a white woman who influenced the course of African slavery through her writing. Her name  is Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose work sold in the millions, and who became an abolitionist and a defender of slaves.

Like Ann Petry who was featured last week, Harriet was born in Connecticut, one of three daughters to Lyman Beecher and Roxanna Foote. However, Harriet was born almost a century earlier on June 14, 1811.  Her mother died when Harriet was only four years old and her older sister Catherine became her educator. Harriet enrolled in a seminary (girls’ school) run by Catherine, where she was educated in traditional “male” fashion in the classics, languages and mathematics. (more…)