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In 1813, Harriett Ann Jacobs was born into slavery in Edenton, North Carolina. She was taught to read and write when she was very young.
She was six years old when her mother died and was raised by her maternal grandmother, Molly Horniblow, who had been freed.
Still a teenager, Jacobs became romantically involved with a neighboring white lawyer, Samuel Tredwell Taylor, with whom she had two children. When her owner demanded that she accept his carnal desires and become his concubine, she refused and was sent to a neighboring plantation to work in the fields.
After Taylor purchased their two children and sent them to the North, Jacobs escaped and remained in hiding for the next seven years.
This is the basic story of many slaves during the times.
However, Jacobs’ story begins with her escape to the North in 1842. After temporarily working as a nursemaid in New York City, she moved to Rochester, New York. She began working in a reading room above Frederick Douglass’s newspaper, the North Star.
Her life’s story became interesting to Quaker abolitionist Amy Post when they met at a rally. Post encouraged Ms. Jacobs to offer her tale to others.
In 1861, Jacobs self-published “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.” This book became known as an all-inclusive, depressing, and inhumane life story about the sufferings of a black woman forced to survive in Southern slavery.
Although discounted by some as a work of fiction, her story was authenticated by scholars in 1881.
In one of my sources, there is a short excerpt from ”Life of a Slave Girl.” The book is a narrative, and Jacobs uses an alter-ego by the name of Linda Brent.
Linda Brent is a woman of mixed descent owned by sadistic Dr. Flint, a pious churchgoer who repeatedly beats and rapes Linda and also sells her children. Her narrative includes graphic descriptions of brutality, slave auctions, and the cruelty of slave owners’ wives to their husbands’ slave children. Written after Jacobs’s own escape to freedom, the book derives its power from the unflinching accuracy of its portrayal of the lives of the slaves.
During the Civil War, Jacobs lived in Washington, D.C., nursing Black soldiers back to health and teaching. After the war, she and her daughter joined and worked in the relief movement in Savannah and Edenton.
“In 1868, they traveled to London to raise funds for an orphanage and home for the aged in Savannah. The year before her death in 1897, she was actively involved in organizing meetings of the National Association of Colored Women in Washington, D. C. She is buried in the Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA.”
Today, Republican-dominated state legislatures are attempting to prevent educators from discussing slavery or the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Additional censorship includes any reference to the LGBTQ community and, in some cases, the tragedies of the Holocaust.
“Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Winston Churchill.
Op-ed by James Turnage
Britannica: Harriet Jacobs
Britannica: slave narrative/American literature
New Bedford Historical Society: Harriet Jacobs Writer
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