tagged with: slavery

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…)