harriet_ann_jacobs1894

“The war of my life had begun; and though one of God’s most powerless creatures, I resolved never to be conquered.”

“When they told me my new-born babe was a girl, my heart was heavier than it had ever been before. Slavery is terrible for men, but it is far more terrible for women.”

Harriet Jacobs was born into slavery in North Carolina, but from an early age determined she would never let herself “be conquered.” Starting in her early teenage years, she was relentlessly and ruthlessly pursued sexually by her master. At one point a free black carpenter fell in love with Jacobs, and she with him, and he wanted to buy her out of slavery so that they could be married and she would be free of her master’s advances, but her master forbade it. Out of necessity, Jacobs became involved with a local white lawyer and had two children with him, hoping he would be able to get her and her children out of slavery. Eventually this man bought their children and sent them North. Jacobs strategized and cultivated a network, and spent seven years living in a tiny, dark crawl-space in her free grandmother’s home before she could finally escape to the North. At last, an abolitionist friend formally bought Jacobs in order to then free her. But Jacobs had reached such a point of self-estimation and self-knowledge that she could not bear to think of herself as an article of property that could be bought, and thus did not like to look at or think of the bill of sale, even though it formalized and ensured her freedom. Jacobs wrote an astounding autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, in which she laid out a compelling narrative of resistance that included cultivating an ethics of deception, political judgment, and solidarity. Jacobs also made painfully and unavoidably clear the peculiar wrongs and injustices experienced by enslaved women and girls. Her powerful work was brushed under the rug until Black Feminists like Angela Davis resuscitated it. Now it is beginning to be given its proper place in the canon of Black political thought and feminist political thought, and hopefully in broader American history and political thought as well.

Source: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl; https://www.britannica.com/biography/Harriet-Jacobs

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