Hello everyone! I hope you all are keeping warm in this bitter cold. I am very ecstatic to begin blogging this semester. I am even more ecstatic because my first post of the semester falls on Black History Month!
For those who do not know the history behind Black History Month, it got its start in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson as “Negro History Week” during the second week of February, as both Frederick Douglass’ and Abraham Lincolns’ birthdays fell on this week. It was created because of the lack of attention the broader society had on Black history. In February 1969, student leaders at Kent State University decided to expand it to the entire month of February, and in 1976, the federal government acknowledged this change, with the first official celebration occurring in 1970 at Kent State. Since then, Black History Month has also spread to other countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom, and it’s still going strong!
So in the spirit of Black History Month, I decided to devote my February posts to honoring some fearless femmes in history that contributed to the uplift of the African-American community. Today, I am featuring Harriet Ann Jacobs, writer, abolitionist, and speaker.
Harriet Ann Jacobs was born a slave in 1813 in Edenton, North Carolina. At the age of six, Harriet’s mother died, and she went to live with her mother’s mistress Margaret Horniblow. From her, Harriet learned to read, write, and sew. In 1285, Margaret died, and Harriet went to live with Margaret’s niece’s father, Dr. James Norcom. While living with Dr. Norcom, Harriet was sexually assaulted and forbidden to marry. When she had two children by a free white lawyer, Dr. Norcom would threaten Harriet with selling her children if she continued to refuse his sexual advancements. Eventually, living with Dr. Norcom became too much to handle, and in 1835 she escaped to her grandmother’s home, reluctantly leaving her children behind.
Harriet stayed her with grandmother for seven years, and in 1842, she escaped to Philadelphia by boat. By then, her children were purchased by their father and moved in with Harriets grandmother, so occasionally she got to see them. In Philadelphia, Harriet was taken in by people from the Philadelphia Vigilant Committee, who helped her travel to New York three years later. She eventually moved to Rochester and met Amy Post, a Quaker and a strong abolitionist. Through Amy & her husband Isaac, Harriet joined the Anti-Slavery Society and became very politically involved. Harriet and her brother, John S. Jacobs, fled from Rochester, however, after the passing of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. They moved back to New York City, but Harriet fled to Massachusetts to avoid Dr. Norcom. Eventually, Harriet became free when one of her friends arranged a purchase of her papers.
Harriet began her career as an author writing anonymous letters to the New York Tribune, including “Letter from a Fugitive Slave. Slaves Sold Under Peculiar Circumstances” (June 21, 1853). Harriet is best known for her book Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, published in 1860, which chronicles her journey from slavery to freedom. In 1861, a British version titled The Deeper Wrong; Or, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl was released in London. Harriet was the first woman to write a fugitive slave narrative in the United States.
In the following years, Harriet traveled around the North, working to support refugees of war and other fugitive slaves. She founded a school with her daughter in 1863 in Alexander, Virginia, which lasted two years. They then moved on to Savannah, Georgia and back to her hometown of Edenton, to continue their relief efforts for the freedmen & freedwomen. Violence, however, caused Harriet to move back to Massachusetts, and she opened a boarding school in 1870. In her later years, she moved to Washington, DC with her daughter, where she spent her last years. Harriet Ann Jacobs passed away in Washington, DC on March, 7 1987.
Harriet Ann Jacobs was a fearless femme during her lifetime, and I hope she inspires you to be just as fearless!