ELA 11 5.1: Harriet Jacobs

Harriet Jacobs' narrative gave Americans an unprecedented account of what it meant to be a fugitive of slavery. Check out this video for more about her story.

19th-Century Literature19th-Century American Literature
American Literature19th-Century American Literature
LanguageEnglish Language
Literature19th-Century Literature

Transcript

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time for it to gain popularity, and by a pretty long time we don't mean a year or

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two we mean all about a century give or take a year. By the time her [Harriet in a coffin holding up her book]

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autobiography "Incidents in the life of a slave girl" was published in 1860

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the US was staring down the maw of Civil War. Nobody had time to appreciate [The U.S. looking down the mouth of a lion]

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Harriet's harrowing tale of life as a slave and then as a fugitive on the

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run. Today we're taking the time. Harriet was born in North Carolina in 1813 and

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the first 12 years of her life were pretty happy. Her mistress was nice to her [Harriet dancing with her arms in the air]

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as nice as a mistress can be, her slave owners and stuff... And taught Harriet

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to read and spell, but then Harriet's mistress died and Harriet was willed to [Harriet's mistress falls to the floor]

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a little girl which basically meant that Harriet became the property of the

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little girl's dad Dr. Norcom and Dr. Norcom was a bad bad dude. Seriously if he [Dr. Norcom becomes the devil]

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had the opportunity to buy a creepy van and hand out candy from it he

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probably would have. Norcom wanted to have sex with teenaged Harriet and Harriet

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definitely wanted nothing to do with the nasty old letch. But she was a slave which [Harriet hits Norcom with a broom and runs away]

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meant she ultimately had no choice in the matter, and yet she figured a way out

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of her predicament. Harriet had sex with someone else a white attorney. Her

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plan was to make Norcom so angry that she slept with someone else that he'd [Norcom gets angry and his ears steam]

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sell her off or have a stroke and die whichever came first. In the end Harriet

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had two children with her lawyer lover, she pretended to escape so she'd be out

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of Norcom clutches and he'd have no excuse not to sell her kids to their [Harriet goes up some stairs]

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father. So for seven years she lived in a cramped crawlspace, there were bugs they

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were rodents, there were bugs on rodents, but she could look down on her kids

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every day and know they were safe. Well ultimately Harriet [Harriet looks down and her children are smiling]

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boyfriend failed to free his kids from slavery and he actually sent his own

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daughter Louisa to work as a servant in Brooklyn. We wouldn't want that guy's [Tredwell chucks his daughter on a boat]

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our attorney, just saying... Harriet was having none of that, she escaped for real this

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time reclaimed her kids and spent the next 10 years living on the lam with [Harriet and her kids running from Norcom]

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Norcom in hot pursuit. Sounds like a horror movie to us but it was just normal life

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to her. Harriet ended up living and working in the company of abolitionists.

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One of them, Amy Post, urged Harriet to tell her story and Harriet did. Incidents [Harriet at an abolitionist assembly]

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in the life of a slave girl is notable because it focuses on something that

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Victorian society did not want to think about, yes,sex, specifically harriet [Victorian man screams when reading Harriet's book]

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detailed how slaves like her suffered sexually at the hands of their masters.

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And while the white ladies of the time might faint in horror at the fact that Harriet [Woman reading Harriet's book faints]

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had chosen to get busy with the white lawyer man in order to escape Norcom

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well Harriet was confident the greater sin was that Norcom and men like him were

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sexual tyrant to their slaves. During and after the Civil War Harriet and her [Norcom as the devil wearing a crown that says sexual tyrant]

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daughter Louisa worked to bring relief to recently freed slaves in Washington DC

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and in the south. Ultimately the two women were driven north by racial

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violence and Harriet settled in Massachusetts where she opened a [Harriet running away from men with torches]

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boardinghouse. She died in Washington DC in 1897. Harriet wrote in her

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autobiography that she was never whipped, she was never mutilated, she never [Pictures of physical abuse slaves suffered]

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suffered the abuses that many slaves did and yet she lived in constant fear that

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her master would force her to grant control of her own body to him. [Harriet shakes at the thought of Norcom]

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And of course she wasn't an isolated case so many other black women just like her had

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to live with the same threat day in and day out. Well in the end Harriet Jacobs [Harriet on a boat]

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escaped and told her story, a story she shared with so many others and still [Harriet holding up her book]

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should be shared today. Read this book people, read it it will make you a better person. [People reading Harriet's book at a library]