Harriet Ann Jacobs aka Linda Brent

Harriet Ann Jacobs a.k.a. Linda Brent

Harriet Ann Jacobs a.k.a. Linda Brent

Harriet Ann Jacobs (February 11, 1813 – March 7, 1897) was an African-American writer who escaped from slavery and became an abolitionist speaker and reformer. Jacobs’ single work, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, published in 1861 under the pseudonym Linda Brent, was one of the first autobiographical narratives about the struggle for freedom by female slaves and an account of the sexual harassment and abuse they endured.

Harriet Jacobs, daughter of Delilah, the slave of Margaret Horniblow, and Daniel Jacobs, the slave of Andrew Knox, was born in Edenton, North Carolina, in the fall of 1813. Until she was six years old Harriet was unaware that she was the property of Margaret Horniblow. Before her death in 1825, Harriet’s relatively kind mistress taught her slave to read and sew.

In her will, Margaret Horniblow bequeathed eleven-year-old Harriet to a niece, Mary Matilda Norcom. Since Mary Norcom was only three years old when Harriet Jacobs became her slave, Mary’s father, Dr. James Norcom, an Edenton physician, became Jacobs’s de facto master. Under the regime of James and Maria Norcom, Jacobs was introduced to the harsh realities of slavery. Though barely a teenager, Jacobs soon realized that her master was a sexual threat.  (more…)

Marcus Garvey

Marcus Garvey

Marcus Garvey

Marcus Garvey (August 17, 1887 – June 10, 1940) and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) form a critical link in black America’s centuries-long struggle for freedom, justice, and equality. As the leader of the largest organized mass movement in black history and progenitor of the modern “black is beautiful” ideal, Garvey is now best remembered as a champion of the back-to-Africa movement. In his own time he was hailed as a redeemer, a “Black Moses.” Though he failed to realize all his objectives, his movement still represents a liberation from the psychological bondage of racial inferiority. (more…)

David Walker

(b. Sept. 28, 1785, Wilmington, N.C., U.S.–d. June 28, 1830, Boston, Mass.), black American Abolitionist whose pamphlet Appeal . . . to the Colored Citizens of the World . . . (1829), urging slaves to fight for their freedom, was one of the most radical documents of the antislavery movement.

Born of a slave father and a free mother, Walker grew up free, obtained an education, and traveled throughout the country. Settling in Boston, he became involved in the Abolitionist movement (see abolitionism) and was a frequent contributor to Freedom’s Journal, an anti-slavery weekly. Sometime in the 1820s he opened a secondhand clothing store on the Boston waterfront. Through this business he could purchase clothes taken from sailors in barter for drink, and then resell them to seamen about to embark. In the copious pockets of these garments, he concealed copies of his Appeal, which he reasoned would reach Southern ports and pass through the hands of other used-clothes dealers who would know what to do with them. He also used sympathetic black seamen to distribute pamphlets directly.

When the smuggled pamphlets began to appear in the South, the states reacted with legislation prohibiting circulation of Abolitionist literature and forbidding slaves to learn to read and write. Warned that his life was in danger, Walker refused to flee to Canada. His body was found soon afterward near his shop, and many believed he had been poisoned.

His Appeal for a slave revolt, widely reprinted after his death, was accepted by a small minority of Abolitionists, but most antislavery leaders and free blacks rejected his call for violence at the time.

His only son, Edwin G. Walker, was elected to the Massachusetts legislature in 1866.

Anna Maria Weems

Maria Weems escaping in male attire.

Weems escaping in male attire

According to Underground Rail Road records, Anna Maria Weems disguised her gender and used several male aliases in order to escape her plight and acquire freedom. At the time of her escape, she was a “bright mulatto, well-grown, smart and good-looking” fifteen year old girl. Her family members, including her mother, have been sold before she turned thirteen. Because her owners feared that she would escape, they made her sleep in their chamber in order to prevent her from doing so. Finally she had the means to escape with the help of the Underground Railroad. William Still describes her escape in “The Underground Railroad” (1870):  (more…)

Maria Stewart

Maria StewartMaria W. Stewart (Maria Miller) (1803 – February 6, 1880) was an African-American journalist, lecturer, abolitionist, and women’s rights activist. Although her career was brief it was very striking. Maria W. Stewart started off her career as a domestic servant. She later became an activist.

She was the first American woman to speak to a mixed audience of men and women, whites and black. She was also the first African- American woman to lecture about women’s rights, make a public anti-slavery speech and the first African-American woman to make public lectures. Stewart has had two pamphlets published in the Liberator, including “Religion and Pure Principles of Morality, the Sure Foundation on Which We Must Build”. In this pamphlet she advocated abolition and black autonomy. Her second pamphlet was more religious-based. (more…)

Olaudah Equiano

Olaudah Equiano
aka Gustavus Vassa

Captured far from the African coast when he was a boy of 11, Olaudah Equiano was sold into slavery, later acquired his freedom, and, in 1789, wrote his widely-read autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African.

The youngest son of a village leader, Equiano was born among the Ibo people in the kingdom of Benin, along the Niger River. He was “the greatest favourite with [his] mother.” His family expected to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a chief, an elder, a judge. Slavery was an intregal part of the Ibo culture, as it was with many other African peoples. His family owned slaves, but there was also a continual threat of being abducted, of becoming someone else’s slave. This is what happened, one day, while Equiano and his sister were at home alone.  (more…)