We Need to Read Stories of People Who Were Enslaved
February 27, 2018
Six reasons why listening to these voices is worth your time.
One day, a friend and I were shopping after brunch. We paused to look at a work of art where a woman was walking down a street with the eyes of every person in the painting fixed on her—some smirking, some laughing, some lustful, some indifferent. My friend, a woman of color in the South, said, “That’s how I feel every day of my life.”
I realized in that moment that my friend’s experience of life was vastly different from mine even if we lived, worked, and walked in the exact same places. Her comment offered a small window into a parallel America that I had never experienced. But even though I listened, I did not have the context to grasp what she was telling me. Years later, I discovered that in order to move forward in understanding, I needed to look backward.
Whether you are building interracial friendships, have a passion for equality and standing in solidarity with African Americans, or are simply always looking for ways to continue to learn and to grow, here is a recommendation that has helped me: Read the narratives of people who were enslaved.
Frederick Douglass. Harriet Jacobs. Solomon Northup.
Compelling, thoughtful, and revealing, these narratives form the first distinctively black genre of literature in America, and they are well worth reading for six important reasons:
1. Hear It Firsthand
The United States has lost much of our interior history of slavery because many slave narratives were never written down or published. When abolitionists like William Wilberforce and his friends began their work, they realized that there was a dearth of accurate information about slavery. Thomas Clarkson was sent on a two-year investigation, the findings of which were used by anti-slavery preachers …