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Black History Month Series

Female Leaders and Plantation Life

Veronica Grandison, Leah Johnson, Brittney Moore

Issue date: 2/16/10 Section: News
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The story of Harriet Tubman is a familiar one. Tubman was the fierce-minded abolitionist who led many slaves to freedom during a time when over a million African Americans were in bondage. Sojourner Truth is another female leader whose name is well known in African American history.

As an abolitionist and women's right activist during the 1800s, Truth commanded respect with her superior oratorical skills and refused to be treated as anything less than a strong black woman. However, Harriet Jacobs is an important female figure in African American history that is not often acknowledged.

As an abolitionist, writer and reformer, Jacobs' story is parallel to both Tubman and Truth's because she too was bound by the constraints of slavery early in her life. Nevertheless, Jacobs was also able to liberate herself from the terror she faced and become a leader in the face of oppression.

Jacobs became the first African American female to publish a narrative about the abuse she endured as a slave. Jacob's story, which is told in "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl," illustrates in great detail the enormous amount of pressure put on African American women during slavery.

As a female slave in the 1800s, Jacobs was under the constant scrutiny of her master, who began to make sexual advances towards her when she turned fifteen. Jacobs suffered brutal sexual abuse from her master for seven years and had to bear a heavier burden than male slaves because she was both a sexual object and forced laborer.

However, having children caused her to liberate herself because she wanted her children to have a better future. Jacob's master had offered to give her and her children their freedom and set up a cottage for them if she refused to see the father of her children again. Yet, Jacobs refused because she knew that she would never truly be free if she stayed within her master's presence.

Jacobs escaped from slavery in 1842, but she was still bound by the ties of slavery due to her master. Afraid of being caught, Jacobs went into hiding at her grandmother and uncle's house. For seven years, Jacobs lived in a tiny crawlspace above her grandmother's porch.
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