Slavery and the Making of America

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Black History 1
Episode 3: "Seeds of Destruction"
The documentary “Slavery and the Making of America,” focused on the lives of two African American individuals that were born in the 1800’s. One was a woman named Harriet Jacobs .In the 1850s, Harriet Jacobs began to write an autobiography she would call would eventual call Incidents “In The Life Of a Slave Girl”. She would become the first woman to write a slave narrative. A slave narrative was a published work written by African Americans who had escaped lives of bondage at a time when state laws in the south made it a crime to teach the enslaved reading and writing. Harriet would ultimately use her words to reveal the awful truth of American slavery. Her story began in the town of Edenton, North Carolina, where she was born in 1813. Harriet's first master had ignored the laws and taught her to read and write. After she died, Harriet got a new master named Doctor James Norcom. She was 12 years old with light skin and dark eyes and because of that Harriet became a house slave. She was to cook and clean, and serve the wishes of the mistress and the master.

One historian in the documentary said that Harriet mentioned in her narrative that no matter what the slave girl looks like if she's dark, if she's light, if she's medium, if she's at all attractive, she has beauty, and that was a curse because the master will be after her. At the age of 12 Doctor James Norcom was conatantly haraasing harriet, reminding her that she was his, and swearing to her that she would willingly submit to him. Norcom had many children outside of his legal marriage with salves that he tended to sell off. One historian mentioned that back then judges said there is no such thing as the rape of a black woman. The courts did not recognize it.

At 15, Harriet met Samuel Tredwell Sawyer. The 30 lawyer was from one of North Carolina's most important families. He was a white man that said he was concerned about her.saying “I am your friend”. To her he was a safe haven. They became lovers. Harriet was convinced that a man of such power and influence would be able to free her. So harriet took the risk.

Harriet gave birth to a son by Sawyer. By law her child was owned to Norcom. Norcom was threatening to send her children to a plantation of his that's known for brutalizing slaves. So ahrriet began to realize if she were gone, Norcom would relinquish the children. The only way to save her children was to leave them. In 1835, Harriet fled to her grandmother’s home. Her grandmother was a free woman living in Edenton. Harriet was hid away in a tiny space beneath the roof of her grandmother's house.

Voice ofRats and mice ran over my bed. I was restless for want of air; the atmosphere so stifled that even mosquitoes would not condescend to buzz in it. I suffered for air even more than for light.

Nell Irvin Painter: She suffers from heat, she suffers from cold. From time to time she can come down and walk around a little bit but she's under house arrest basically.

Mia Bay: ... she was literally a prisoner who, who made herself a prisoner and I guess that's how she did it. She survived as prisoners do.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: Within weeks, Harriet learned that Sawyer had bought the children, and was sending them to live at her grandmother's house. Still, Harriet continued to live a secret existence, just a floor apart from her children.

Mia Bay: The thing that holds her back is her devotion to her children. And that was for a lot of slave women the thing that kept them from running away. There were a great deal more male runaways. And the typical runaway was a young male who didn't have children. For slave women, they just didn't want to run away without their children.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: Days slipped into months ... months into years. Harriet filled her time writing, reading, and sewing.

Jean Fagan Yellin: She describes...
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