Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Harriet Jacobs and Anonymous Slave Woman

While meeting with the historians during the planning phase of the mural, Joseph Jordan, the Director of the Stone Center on the campus of UNC and an Associate Professor of History, made the point that he felt it was necessary to find a way to pay tribute to the many anonymous individuals (mostly slaves) that may have played a pivotal role throughout North Carolina history. It was decided amongst the assembled that we should make a symbolic reference to these unsung heroes by including an unnamed man and woman to represent them. I thought that this was a brilliant idea and immediately set about adding them to the assembled cast. I found an old picture of a slave woman, but needing a more detailed face, I actually photographed my mother and used her instead. Regardless of that fact, she will forever be labeled as 'anonymous' in homage to those who gave more than anyone should ever have had to give. I will complete her companion to the left tomorrow and post his image.

In some way I feel as though these two 'anonymous' images are the most important in the whole piece and wanted to ensure that their presence was seen as special. When the counter is completed, they will be the only seated people that will have a formal place setting in front of them along with a small display of Forget-me-not flowers to underscore their presence. 

Anonymous Slave Woman and Harriet Ann Jacobs
Harriet Ann Jacobs was born into slavery in Edenton, North Carolina in 1815. She was the daughter of slaves, Delilah and Daniel Jacobs. Harriet Jacobs is best known for her autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, edited by white abolitionist Lydia Maria Child, and published in 1852. Using the pseudonym “Linda Brent,” Jacobs tells the story of her life as a slave of a “Dr. Flint,” to whom she was willed as a young girl after her mistress died.  At this point in her young life, Harriet encountered unceasing sexual advances from Flint. She escaped Flint’s household in 1835, but remained nearby, living in an attic for several years in order to stay near her son. She made her final escape in 1842 and was able to reunite with her children. She settled in Rochester, New York, where she joined the network of abolitionists. At the urging of white abolitionist Amy Post, Jacobs wrote her autobiography. Still pursued by slave catchers, Jacobs fled to Massachusetts.

During the Civil War, Jacobs and her daughter, Louisa, worked with the New England Freedman’s Aid society, which supported her effort to travel to Virginia to provide emergency health care and establish a school for black children.

While living in Boston, Jacobs joined the New England women’s club movement and supported herself by running a boarding house for Harvard students and faculty. She and Louisa later moved to Washington, D.C., where she died in 1897. She was buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge.

No comments:

Post a Comment