Send a Tweet
Most Popular Choices
Share on Facebook 26 Share on Twitter Printer Friendly Page More Sharing
OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 3/9/21

Harriet Jacobs: Ours Is A Different Story

By       (Page 1 of 4 pages)   1 comment
Become a Premium Member Would you like to know how many people have read this article? Or how reputable the author is? Simply sign up for a Advocate premium membership and you'll automatically see this data on every article. Plus a lot more, too.
Author 89170
Message Dr. Lenore Daniels

We could have told them a different story. We could have given them a chapter of wrongs and sufferings"

Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of A Slave Girl

Oppression always requires the participation of the oppressed.

Diane Nash, Civil Rights Activists and Movement Strategist

"'I was born a slave,'" so begins the slave narrative, Incidents in the Life of A Slave Girl (1861) , ending with Harriet Jacob, a free woman. She would rather not speak of those "'painful years.'" However "'gloomy'" her recollection of those years, she could remember the "'tender memories'" of her grandmother, and muster the courage to tell a story needs telling. After all, it's not her narrative alone, but also the narrative of women, enslaved women, in American history. Hers is the narrative of domestic violence, beginning with the threat of rape and rape against African American girls and women.

Harriet Jacobs is a fugitive slave when she, using the pseudonym Linda Brent, decides to speak out against the enterprise of enslavement that, as she writes, is so dependent upon the use of violence to sustain itself and the political and economic power of the enslavers. Jacobs has once before taken matters into her hands in a struggle to defy a Goliath of a patriarchal system that not only threatens to strip her of her humanity but also to sell her two children "down river." And it's this decision and its consequences that consists of the "incidents", which, unfortunately, relates Jacobs are not necessarily unique to her.

When Jacobs is six years old, her mother dies. It was, she writes, at that time she learns, "'by the talk around her,'" that she is a slave. Born in North Carolina, in the year 1813, she had been accustomed to playing freely about the plantation with "'no thought for the morrow.'" But when her mistress dies six years after her mother, she truly understood what it meant to be "'a human being born to be a chattel." Her mistress' will is read: she, Harriet Jacobs, 12 years old, is to be "bequeathed" to the five-year-old daughter of the deceased mistress's sister.

Jacobs laments how she is not asked her plans for her future. Others make decisions about the lives of others and that's it! The slaveholding class exercises power over a woman's body in order to breed new labor for future profits. Her future lies in the submission of her will to the whims of others.

She recalls "hiring-day," the first of January, a dreaded day for most enslaved African Americans, for it's the day slaveholders buy and sell, trade and exchange human beings, including children. By the 2nd day, those sold are expected to leave with their new masters. It's particularly retching for the enslaved mother. Mothers might stay on, but children are sold off. This is a day of particular sorrow for mothers, Jacobs writes. On the 1st of the year, "'she sits on her cold cabin floor, watching the children who may all be torn from her the next morning; and often does wish that she and they might die before the day dawns."

Jacobs adds, however others might look on these women, maybe as "'ignorant'" creatures, made so by a "'system that has brutalized her from childhood,'" these women are, nonetheless, "'capable of feeling a mother's agonies.'"

But here we are: "'Dr. Flint, a physician in the neighborhood, had married the sister of my mistress, and I was the property of their little daughter.'"

What Dr. Flint knows is business, the running of a plantation. And, above all, profits. In his household, he knows who is under his authority, who is subject to his power, who is property to be used for his pleasure and for his financial gain. "'When he told me that I was made for his use, made to obey his command in every thing; that I was nothing but a slave, whose will must and should surrender to his, never before had my puny arm felt half so strong.'"

Harriet Jacobs is fifteen years old. Dr. Flint is whispering "'foul words'" in my ears. "'I tried to treat them with indifference or contempt.'"

Everything, she writes, that her grandmother had instilled in her was tested by this "'vile monster'" who attempted to "'people'" her young mind "'with unclean images.'" There was no protection from the "'insult,'" "'violence,'" or "'death.'" It was, writes Jacobs, relentless! But refusing to despair, envisions her freedom beyond the "'clutches'" of this master. So the war is on, she writes. One of "'God's most powerless creatures,'" she resolves "'never to be conquered.'"

If the read wants an idea of the ruling class Southern American home during these years of enslavement, here is one, the one in which she lived as a teen with under the authority of adults. Here, I offer "'no imaginary pictures of southern homes.'" Instead, Jacobs writes of the bind/blinders placed on the wife of Dr. Flint, "'a second wife, many years the junior of her husband; the hoary-headed miscreant was enough to try the patience of a wiser and better woman.'"

Next Page  1  |  2  |  3  |  4

(Note: You can view every article as one long page if you sign up as an Advocate Member, or higher).


Rate It | View Ratings

Dr. Lenore Daniels Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Activist, writer, American Modern Literature, Cultural Theory, PhD.

Go To Commenting
The views expressed herein are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.
Writers Guidelines
Contact AuthorContact Author Contact EditorContact Editor Author PageView Authors' Articles
Support OpEdNews

OpEdNews depends upon can't survive without your help.

If you value this article and the work of OpEdNews, please either Donate or Purchase a premium membership.

If you've enjoyed this, sign up for our daily or weekly newsletter to get lots of great progressive content.
Daily Weekly     OpEdNews Newsletter
   (Opens new browser window)

Most Popular Articles by this Author:     (View All Most Popular Articles by this Author)

Have You Had Enough of the Madness of Capitalism? Is It Time To Consider What Marx Really Said?

America's Embrace of Willful Ignorance

With Bloomberg, Are African Americans Trying On the Iron Boot?

Get Out!: Harassment of Black Americans Has Historical Roots in American History

Me Too: Abuse of Power and Managed Inequality

The All-Too Familiar American Narrative: Justice is too Scary! Witness 40 in Ferguson, USA

To View Comments or Join the Conversation: