This week’s #LiftEVERYVoice segment highlights Harriet Ann Jacobs, an African-American writer who escaped from slavery and was later freed. Jacobs is best known for writing the revolutionary autobiographical novel, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, one of the first books to address the struggle for freedom by female slaves, and explore their struggles with sexual abuse and their effort to protect their roles as women and mothers.
By Kirsten Raby, Capital Area Regional Director
Harriet Jacobs was born into slavery in 1813. At 6, after her mother’s death, she was sent to live with her mother’s master. When she was 11 she was bequeathed to the niece of her former owner’s wife. For 17 years Harriet fought off the sexual advancements of the father, Dr. James Norcom, of her young master. She not only had to fight off a perpetrator but also had to deal with the never-ending abuse by his wife. While she attempted to navigate the complex life she was given and the constant hate she lived amongst, she entered into an agreed (while still secret) relationship with Samuel Sawyer, an unmarried white attorney. Together they had 2 children, Joseph & Louisa. All the while Harriet continued to fight off the unwanted sexual advancements from Norcom. She was soon banished to work on Norcom’s son’s plantation because of her refusal to be his “mistress”. Her children were sold to their father so she started her escape plan by going into hiding, in the small attic of her grandmother’s home for 7 years. In 1842 Harriet finally escaped and fled to New York to be reunited with her children. In 1860 she published her book Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl; she was the 1st woman to author a fugitive slave narrative in the US. Harriet’s primary goal in writing out her story was to confront white women of the North on behalf of the many “Slave mothers that are still in bondage” in the South. She wanted to indict the southern patriarchy for its sexual tyranny over black women. Harriet spent her free life fighting for freedom, teaching, and doing relief work. She died in Washington DC in 1897. “The secrets of slavery are concealed like those of the inquisition.” Harriet wrote. “My master was, to my knowledge, the father of 11 slaves. But did the mothers dare to tell who was the father of their children? Did the other slaves dare to allude to it, except in whispers among themselves? No indeed? They knew too well the terrible consequences.”
A Letter to Harriet
#LiftEVERYVoice is a movement created by STAR® to amplify the voices of survivors silenced by racial oppression. We seek to uplift, support and empower survivors of color.