Harriet Jacobs: A Reminder of Resistance

Cruelty is contagious in uncivilized communities.
                                                – Harriet Jacobs

Learn more about Harriet Jacobs here , here, and here. Sometimes you just need reminders of resilience and resistance.

 Harriet Jacobs bravely resisted slavery by hiding in the equivalent of an attic crawl space 9x7x3 for seven years. Her “owner” and the man who was determined to sexually assault her, James Norcom continued to very literally hunt for her, advertising for her capture.

The text of the notice reads:

$100 REWARD

WILL be given for the apprehension and delivery of my Servant Girl HARRIET. She is a light mulatto, 21 years of age, about 5 feet 4 inches high, of a     thick and corpulent habit, having on her head a thick covering of black hair that curls naturally, but which can be easily combed straight. She speaks easily and fluently, and has an agreeable carriage and address. Being a good seamstress, she has been accustomed to dress well, has a variety of very fine clothes, made in the prevailing fashion, and will probably appear, if abroad, tricked out in gay and fashionable finery. As this girl absconded from the plantation of my son without any known cause or provocation, it is probable she designs to transport herself to the North.

The above reward, with all reasonable charges, will be given for apprehending her, or securing her in any prison or jail within the U. States.

All persons are hereby forewarned against harboring or entertaining her, or being in any way instrumental in her escape, under the most rigorous penalties of the law.

JAMES NORCOM.

Edenton, N.C. June 30

I think Harriet Jacobs is on my mind because this weekend I reread Octavia Butler’s Kindred. The landmark book, published in 1979 is often considered in the science fiction genre, however, its a far broader and deeper genre that relates to sci-fi because of the use of time travel. In the novel, Dana Franklin recently moves into a new house in California with her white husband, on her 26th birthday. She is inexplicably transported to the antebellum South, where she learns that her own existence is dependent upon a white slave owner, and one of her ancestors, Rufus Weylin.

The cover of Butler's novel Kindred

Butler’s novel was revolutionary when it was first published. Not only was the plot superbly innovative, but Butler herself was an innovation, being one of the first African American womyn writers. I find myself returning to this book again and again as it raises so many questions about power, resistance, and survival. And to know, this was not fictional for so many womyn, womyn like Harriet Jacobs, who faced the very real question of situational ethics and personal dignity and agency.

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