Adam Abo Ryah Mokhalalati.
Growing up in Syria I had a slim knowledge about the history of the United States, after the civil war started I had to unwillingly exit my country avoiding the compulsory military service, I had no inclination to serve an army that killed its own people, in result I was disadvantaged from my own country. Moving to Qatar encouraged me to engage in a new challenge, therefore, I decided to change my studies of an Arabic curriculum to study a British, English based one (A-levels), which allowed me to come across slavery in America and the Great depression but at a shallow level.
I chose the book by Harriet Jacobs as my cultural artifact for various reasons. Most importantly were the wide details she examines, giving a broad image about slavery and its social system. What make this information weighty? Is the fact that she faced and experienced a horrible, inhuman and bitter childhood and adolescence as a typical slave, as well as hiding, escaping and experiencing sexual assault. Harriet Jacobs in this book takes us throughout her journey into freedom, the experience of slave mothers being divided from their children, the horrible life under the control of masters whom routed their slaves out.
I never knew that a great, powerful and frightful country such as the United States of America was mostly built by the efforts and virtual of African American slaves. After reading some chapters of the book that Harriet Jacobs published herself “ Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl”, I started developing a wider knowledge about the whole experience of slaves. Furthermore, I felt a close yet an incomparable connection with Jacobs’s experience; I was forced to leave and lose my country, as well as almost facing death just for protesting against this Nazi regime, some of my friends and other poor Syrians had to escape through “The death boats” to complete their “death route into Europe” aiming to obtain some security and protect their families from the estimated death fate in Syria.
Harriet Jacobs was born a slave in Edenton, North Carolina 1813. She was the daughter of Delilah (her mother) and Elijah (her father). Different slave-owners owned her family, whereas Elijah was a skilled carpenter, whose earning allowed Harriet and her brother John to live with their parents in a happy cozy house. Jacobs learned to read, write and sew under her first mistress, Margret Horniblow, even though Harriet was unaware that she was the property of Margret until she was 6 years old: “I was born a slave; but I never knew till six years of happy childhood had passed away” (Chapter 1).
Jacobs started writing her book after her grandmother’s death, Molly Horniblow, around 1853. However, her book wasn’t published until the year 1861. The main reason behind her writing this book was to arouse sympathy among whites and gain their support against slavery to support the abolitionists’ movements during that time period. Another reason would most likely be, to document the experience of women under slavery, also to talk about slavery as a social system and talk about the awful and appalling humanitarian consequences of slavery.
During that time an educated slave was a type of resistance itself and it was illegal, Jacobs in her book discusses many important aspects of the slave life, which allow us to have an ideal example of how slavery was like, it also underline that racism didn’t only exist “among slave-owning but also among slave opponents”.
During the period of the 1830s tension grew between the South and the North, due to the fact that the Underground Railroad practice grew significantly, which helped an approximate of 100,000 slaves to reach freedom, and caused the abolitionist believes to spread in the North- one of the most important black abolitionist figures was Fredrick Douglas (a free black), all combined to cause a fight to break between Slave and Non-Slave state proponents. Making things even worse was the election of Abraham Lincoln, due to the fact that Southern states believed that he was on the side of Northern states, which made him an anti-slavery symbol. All of that acted as a spark that eventually set the American Civil War on ‘fire’.
Therefore, the period the book was published made its impact on the society less significant to some extent, the Civil War at that time period overshadowed her book .The war began as a struggle to preserve the union, not as a fight for the freedom of Blacks, many however looked at it as a determining step for both issues. Following that on January 1st, 1863, president Abraham Lincoln signed the document of Emancipation stating: “all persons hold as slaves” within the rebellious states, “are, and henceforward shall be free”. Which to some historians it was more of an act to shorten war more than actually ending slavery, Lincoln freed salves that he didn’t actually have authority upon, it was a way to deprive the South from their labor resources. However, even though the act of emancipation didn’t bring slavery to an end, what it did to an extent was to create a concept that slavery was one of the main causes of the Civil War; it was also a step forward towards the 13th Amendment in 1865, which in turn officially ended slavery.
In her book she literally mimics the reality on the ground, she describes most aspects a slave woman could have gone through, from family separation to psychological capitulation- causing an escape. Therefore, that makes her book more important as the time passed, it forms a valuable source to the fourth stage of slavery, which historians can look back into and gather many facts concerning slavery to create an image of reality. In result, that makes her book more of a national treasure, a primary source that discussed an issue a lot of slave women experienced which was sexual abuse, regarding the fact that it was a taboo matter during the 19th century, but Jacobs knew this exploitation had to be addressed somehow: “Slavery is bad for men, but it is far more terrible for women” (Chapter 14).
Throughout examining this cultural artifact, I was able to establish a wide variety of connections related to our course, Harriet Jacobs in a sense goes over slavery through her personal experience, the major aspects she describes in her book were: sexual abuse, escaping and hiding as mentioned before. In 1842, Harriet plan went into action- she took of on a boat from Edenton to Philadelphia, were she stayed there a short time, travelled afterward to New York by the railway, to eventually reunite with her brother and sister, a year after her son, Joseph, joined the family at Boston. As we discovered, slaves that planned an escape were very few due to the various challenges that faced them, such as: monopolized armed power with other mechanisms of white control- local patrols, vigilantes and bounty hunters, also planning and organizing was next to impossible, and most slaves were unlettered and were unfamiliar with the wildness, making it harder upon them to plan an escape, as Jacobs gives us an example of a runaway that faced death by starvation: “many days she had only one cold potato to eat, and at other times could get nothing at all”. (Chapter 8)
Jacobs in her book also examines another trendy form of exploitation that masters conducted, which was sexual abuse. She talks about how beauty showed righteousness for white women, on the other hand it was a curse for black women that made them more likely to be desired by their masters, women headed 1 in 10 households whose children were the outcome of white men, further supporting this argument was what we saw about the repeated raping of Patsey by Edwin Epp in the movie “Twelve Years A Slave”. She also touches on another aspect of slavery just by talking about falling in love with a free black man and her master not allowing their marriage, what we can grasp from that is the fact that even if African Americans were freed, they weren’t free enough to enjoy their “inalienable rights” of white citizens, a free black man can’t marry from an enslaved women unless her master approves. Blacks were prohibited from earning wages, congregating in groups (more than 5), seeking education, resisting punishment, testifying in court, or moving about freely without a “pass” even if they were free they needed their certificate on them all times, which is another example mentioned in the movie “Twelve Years A Slave”, all of that was laws created by the “Slave Code” by the 1715
Jacobs also talk about “The Slaves’ New Year’s Day”, described by that because it took place on the 1st of January and slaves went to their new masters’ houses on the 2nd, she mentions how a woman who served a family faithfully for 70 years was left by her master, and was to be sold to anyone for $20 (Chapter 7). All of that provide a great example for our studies about how slavery was a business; we learned how families were sold as individuals rather than a group, slaves were displayed for the white public to chose from. In addition, “Twelve Years A Slave” exhibits that even a “nice master” (Ford) couldn’t listen to the truth that Solomon is a free Black, and how the slave trader didn’t sell the young girl because she would bring him more money if to be sold for prostitution.
To end with, I would like to posit a personal idea about the experiences of African Americans and how it links to our current era. Syrians and other Arab refugees are now experiencing similar acts; they left their countries with only a bag full of essentials needed for survival during their journey to either Turkey or Europe. Where their needy are being used to exploit them with hard labor for only a ridiculous insufficient amount of wages. Even though Arabs are experiencing that now, African Americans are still ongoing the same experience as their ancestor, they get paid insufficiently, they are subject to racism placing their lives at risk at anytime. The interesting part is wondering why aren’t Black Americans seeking revenge using extreme violence? Why do they prefer political, educated and civilized ways to resolve their rights? Regarding the fact that groups from other races that experienced similar horrible hardships have chosen violence as a tool to conduct revenge against other nations, such as Zionists (indicating crucially that Zionists do not represent the vast majority of benevolence Jewish people).
Washington, Durthy A. CliffsNotes on Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. 19 Nov 2015
PBS, Harriet Jacobs, Resource Bank
Slavery in the United States, A BRIEF HISTORY, CIVIL WAR TRUST
The Civil War and emancipation
Top Five Causes of the Civil War, Leading up to Secession and the Civil War
Harriet A. Jacobs (Harriet Ann), 1813-1897 and Lydia Maria Francis Child, 1802-1880
“Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl”. Written by Herself, published to the Author
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs, chapters indicated in the text.