Being a subscriber to Brown Girl Collective, a Facebook page that regularly features inspirational Black women in history, I happened upon the life story of Harriet Jacobs, a runaway slave. Learning she had written a book (under the pseudonym Linda Brent), I knew this was a must read and promptly got it from Amazon. When the book arrived, I opened its pages tentatively, and indeed, at first, I wasn't certain I could make it all the way through. Notwithstanding the uncomfortable topic, I steeled myself, and very soon I was unable to put this little gem of a book down. As I read, I kept thinking I couldn't believe it hadn't been made into a movie, because this true story has it all: an engrossing story that keeps the reader on pins and needles; intriguing personalities, including the indomitable Harriet; and the backdrop of a society so sick and depraved in nature that it took its toll on all involved.
In all my years, I have never read a real-life slave account, and I fully expected this story to be rather dry and unappealing. Instead, I was treated to a tale that rivals any of the best novels I've ever read. Harriet tells her story with such heart, the reader can feel the pain, anger, fear, and despair she endured for years. Even fully aware of her ultimate fate before I started reading (she manages to make it North as a runaway), I still found myself worried and anxious as I read. Her journey to freedom is anything but a straight line, and the events leading to her freedom are fraught with tension and suspense. Fiction could not be any better.
Then, there are the personalities that populate the story. There's Harriet herself, a proudly stubborn girl who refuses to give into her master and is determined to secure both her and her children's freedom at almost unbelievable cost to herself. Her master Dr. Flint is almost inhuman....nothing less than sick, jealous, and vindictive, determined that if he cannot have her himself, no one else ever will and she will never go free. Mrs. Flint is equally unhinged, hating Harriet because of her husband's obsession. And then, there are the good souls: Harriet's beloved grandmother who would do anything for her; her uncles and brothers who try to protect her; and the host of friends, both Black and white, who try to help Harriet. As she writes, Ms. Jacobs gives her laser-beam perceptions on people, acknowledging the good and the bad in people whether no matter their color.
And this brings us to the setting of the antebellum South, a sick, depraved society that infected everyone in its grip. Indeed, one can say that everyone was a victim in this society. To be clear, I am certainly not saying that Whites suffered anywhere near what African slaves did under the system. There is simply no comparison when one reads of slashing tendons in the ankles to prevent runaways, whippings, selling off family members, denying food to slaves too old to work..the list goes on. Nevertheless, in Dr. Flint and his wife, one can see how divorced from humanity this system caused many southern Whites to become. When one is born and suckled in such depravity, what chance do most have to rise above it and be something other than inhuman? Surely, some did, as we see in Harriet's story, but for the most part, we are a product of our environment. This book opened my eyes even further to this fact, and helps further understanding of why our country is as it is even 150 years after slavery.
In the end, I urge everyone to read this book. It is enlightening, and also, just plain good reading.