artist, was born in Colquitt County, Georgia, son of John Henry Adams, a former slave and preacher in the Methodist Church, and Mittie Rouse. Many questions surround Adams's early life. While he reported in an Atlanta Constitution article (23 June 1902) that he came from a humble background, his father served parishes throughout Georgia. According to the History of the American Negro and His Institutions (1917), Adams Sr. was a man of accomplishment, leading black Georgians in a colony in Liberia for two years and receiving two honorary doctorates, from Bethany College and Morris Brown University. Educated in Atlanta schools, Adams claimed in the Atlanta Constitution article to have traveled to Philadelphia in the late 1890s to take art classes at the Drexel Institute of Art, Science, and Industry (later Drexel University). Drexel, established in 1891 opened its doors to a diverse student ...
Frances Smith Foster
author and activist, was born in Oglethorpe, Georgia, the daughter of slaves. Details of her life are sketchy. Little is known of her parents or her childhood beyond the date and place of her birth and the fact that she was born into bondage; thus, it is particularly intriguing that in 1870, only five years after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery and one year after Atlanta University opened, seventeen-year-old Octavia was among the 170 students enrolled at that institution. Most of the little we know of her life comes from The House of Bondage (1890), the book that made her famous. From that source we learn that in 1873 she was teaching in Montezuma, Georgia, when she met her fellow teacher A. E. P. Albert. They married in 1874 and had one daughter.Sometime around 1877 Albert s husband was ordained as a Methodist ...
Henry Bibb (1815–1854) survived a life of slavery more harrowing than most. Born in Kentucky and sold multiple times to increasingly cruel and negligent masters, Bibb willed himself to endure for the sake of his wife Malinda and their family. Bibb managed to escape, but was recaptured when he returned for Malinda and their child. He then spent time in a labor prison before being sold to another master. After making a final escape, Bibb spent years trying to retrieve Malinda, only to discover in 1845 that she had been sold as a concubine to a new slaveholder. From that dismal point, Bibb’s career as an abolitionist began in earnest. He published his story, Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, An American Slave, in 1849, and founded an abolitionist newspaper Voice of the Fugitive in 1851.
Due to his difficult experiences it is not surprising that ...
Valerie A. Gray
college president, educator, and minister, was born Jared Maurice Arter in Jefferson County, West Virginia, the son of Jeremiah Arter, a slave and a miller by trade, and Hannah Frances Stephenson, a slave. When Arter was seven years old his father died in an accident at the mill. The plantation on which the family lived, the Little plantation, was located four miles from Harpers Ferry. In 1859 Arter witnessed the hanging of four men who participated in John Brown's raid at that city. This childhood memory sparked in him the desire to fight for equality; the schoolroom would be his battleground.
As a teenager Arter applied for a position as a bellboy for which he would have to pass a test demonstrating his ability to read numbers With help from his brother in law he mastered the skill sufficiently in one evening to pass the test This accomplishment ...
Africanslave who arrived in England and recorded his experiences in a narrative. Details of Asa‐Asa's birth and death are unknown. He was captured from his home in Bycla, near Egie, West Africa, and was eventually placed aboard a French vessel called The Pearl. Owing to severe weather conditions, the ship landed in the port of St Ives, Cornwall. Subsequently, Asa‐Asa and four other shipmates were taken to London. While in England, he wrote the ‘Narrative of Louis Asa‐Asa, a Captured African’ (1831 which details his family background the invasion of the Adinyes or the African slave traders who set fire to his village as they sought to kill torture or capture its inhabitants and his experiences on the ships that eventually led him to England Prior to his arrival he was taken to various places and sold numerous times After six months of journeying ...
Susan J. Hubert
Autobiography has been a significant genre throughout the history of African American literature. In documenting the lives of African Americans, autobiographical writing has challenged racist beliefs and racially oppressive institutions—especially slavery—and provided examples of perseverance and resistance. Although they were primarily concerned with their individual thoughts and experiences, African American autobiographers have also helped define the character of African American people as a whole. As a literary form, African American autobiography evolved from its somewhat derivative beginnings into a distinctly African American literary movement.
Authenticity is a central issue in early African American autobiography Although some autobiographers relied on amanuenses the publication of narratives written by African Americans provided concrete evidence against racist claims that people of African descent were incapable of artistic and intellectually sophisticated writing Writing provided a degree of independence that has often been denied black people in racist societies and African American authors gained representation in ...
Darlene Clark Hine
A version of this article originally appeared in Black Women in America, 2nd ed.
Anna Julia Cooper, in what is considered the first black feminist text, A Voice from the South (1892), declared, “As our Caucasian barristers are not to blame if they cannot quite put themselves in the dark man’s place, neither should the dark man be wholly expected fully and adequately to reproduce the exact Voice of the black Woman.” African American women have written autobiographies since the 1700s. Today, the many forms of autobiography—memoirs, essays, notes, diaries, advice, and self-help—constitute one of the most important genres in black writing.
Some of the most exciting and dynamic work written at the beginning of the twenty first century focused attention on the social history of black women These autobiographical writings both outside and within the academy occupied in a sense the frontier sites of public discourse ...
Lynn Orilla Scott
Slave narratives are autobiographical accounts of the physical and spiritual journey from slavery to freedom. In researching her groundbreaking 1946 dissertation, Marion Wilson Starling located 6,006 slave narratives written between 1703 and 1944. This number includes brief testimonies found in judicial records, broadsides, journals, and newsletters as well as separately published books. It also includes approximately 2,500 oral histories of former slaves gathered by the Federal Writers' Project in the 1930s. The number of separately published slave narratives, however, is much smaller. Although exact numbers are not available, nearly one hundred slave narratives were published as books or pamphlets between 1760 and 1865, and approximately another one hundred following the Civil War. The slave narrative reached the height of its influence and formal development during the antebellum period, from 1836 to 1861 During this time it became a distinct genre of American literature and achieved immense popularity ...
The son of Portuguese parents, Aluísio Azevedo achieved national prominence with the novel O Mulato in 1881 (published in English as Mulatto in 1990). A vehement denunciation of church corruption, the evils of slavery, and racial prejudice amongst the provincial elite in the northern Brazilian state of Maranhão, the novel was well received in the nation's capital, Rio de Janeiro. But it caused such polemic in his native state that the writer decided to relocate to Rio. There, between 1882 and 1895, he struggled to make a living as a professional writer, producing novels, short fiction, plays, and chronicles. He wrote eleven novels all told, moving between romantic melodrama and naturalism. His romantic novels are seldom read today, and his naturalist novel O Cortiço (1890; published in English as A Brazilian Tenement, 1926) is generally considered to be his best work. In 1895 ...
Ball, Charles (1781?–?), fugitive slave, soldier, and memoirist, was born on a tobacco plantation in Calvert County, Maryland, the son of slave parents whose names are unknown. When Ball was four years old his mother and siblings were sold to slave traders to settle their late master’s debts; he never saw them again. Ball was sold to John Cox, a local slaveowner, and continued to live near his father and grandfather. After the sale of Ball’s mother, his father sank into a deep depression, eventually escaping from slavery on the eve of his purchase by a slave trader. Ball became close to his octogenarian grandfather, a former African warrior who had arrived in Maryland around 1730.
Cox died when Ball was twelve and the young slave worked for his late master s father until he was twenty years old During this time Ball married a slave named ...
fugitive slave, soldier, and slave narrative author, was born on a tobacco plantation in Calvert County, Maryland, the son of slave parents whose names are unknown. When Charles was four years old, his mother and siblings were sold to slave traders to settle their late master's debts; he never saw them again. Charles was sold to John Cox, a local slave owner, and continued to live near his father and grandfather. After the sale of Charles's mother, his father sank into a deep depression, eventually escaping from slavery on the eve of his purchase by a slave trader. Charles grew close to his octogenarian grandfather, a former African warrior who had arrived in Maryland about 1730.
Cox died when Charles Ball was twelve and the young slave worked for his late master s father until he was twenty years old During this time Ball married a slave ...
writer and escaped slave, was born probably in 1824 in the town of Djougou located in what is now northern Benin Djougou was an important trading town with close commercial connections to the kingdom of Dahomey to the south and the sultanate of Nupe to the east Baquaqua s family which spoke Dendi as their first language was deeply involved in long distance trade His mother was originally from the Hausa speaking town of Katsina far to the east of Djougou while his father claimed Arab descent He probably spoke Hausa as well as the Arabic he learned in qurʾanic school Baquaqua traveled on caravans to the east and west of Djougou at the behest of his father However he did not want to follow his father s wish that he become a Muslim scholar so he stayed with one of his maternal uncles a well connected Hausa trader ...
was born a slave near Camden, in Kent County, Delaware. Bayley wrote in his Narrative that his grandmother was a “Guinea woman” who had been transported from West Africa to Virginia when she was only eleven years old and sold to “one of the most barbarous families of that day.” Despite this, she gave birth to fifteen children and “lived to a great age” (38). Bayley's mother had been born and raised with the same Virginia family. She had had several children with her husband, Abner, by the time her master and mistress died and one of their daughters and her husband moved to Delaware, taking the black family. A few years later Solomon Bayley was born, one of thirteen children.
Bayley grew to manhood in Kent County Delaware He took a slave named Thamar as his wife and they had two children When the wife of the couple who ...
Roy E. Finkenbine
Born into slavery in Delaware, Solomon Bayley toiled in bondage until 1799, when he successfully used the law to change his condition. His original owner illegally transported him and other family members to Virginia and sold them to a new master, who sought to take him to one of the new states in the West (probably Kentucky). He escaped back to Delaware, where he was pursued by his master. Using Delaware law, which prohibited the export of slaves out of state and declared any slave sold out of state to be free, Bayley threatened to use the courts to obtain his legal freedom. Faced with this prospect, his master relented and agreed to let him purchase his freedom. Bayley then worked to purchase the freedom of his wife and children over the next few years.
Settling in Kent County Delaware Bayley worked for nearly three decades as a ...
author of the first known slave narrative by an African woman in the United States, and successful petitioner for reparations for her enslavement, was born around 1713. Some historians have argued that she was brought to the US from Ghana, because her petition noted that she had lived on the “Ria da Valta River,” which they viewed as a reference to the Volta River. However, she recalled praying in a sacred grove “to the great Orisa who made all things” as a child. Orisa deities are associated with spiritual traditions among Yoruba-speaking communities in southwestern Nigeria and parts of Benin.
Regardless of the exact location of her original home in her narrative she recalled her childhood as a happy one This peaceful world of groves gave way to the hardships of the Middle Passage European raiders came into her village when she was about twelve years of age whose ...
Mason I. Lowance
Henry Bibb is best known through his Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, An American Slave, which was first published by Bibb himself in 1849. While Frederick Douglass gained credibility through his assertion of authorship and by way of the introductions composed for his narrative by William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips, Bibb enjoyed no such reception and was forced to subvene the publication of his own story. The narrative is rich in detail, including an account of Bibb's use of “conjuring” to avoid punishment for running away, and the use of “charms” to court his slave wife. Bibb also gives eloquent testimony to the conditions and the culture of slavery in Kentucky and the South. John Blassingame describes it as “one of the most reliable of the slave autobiographies,” and it firmly established Bibb, together with Douglass and Josiah Henson as one ...
The son of a Kentucky plantation slave and a state senator, Henry Walton Bibb was born a slave in Kentucky. His repeated attempts to escape bondage were successful in 1842 when he fled to Detroit, Michigan. By then his first wife, whom he married in 1833 and with whom he had a daughter, had been sold again. Bibb turned his energies to abolitionism.
In 1850 Bibb published his autobiography, Narrative of the Life and Adventures of an American Slave. That same year Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Laws, which forced him and his second wife to flee to Canada. A leader of the African American community there, Bibb founded the first black newspaper in Canada, Voice of the Fugitive, in 1851.
See also Abolitionism in the United States; Slave Narratives.
minister and author, was born a slave in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, about sixty miles from Baltimore. He is best known for his narrative, published in 1847, which describes his time in slavery, his escape, and his call to the ministry.
Though Black served several owners in his early life he was eventually brought back to Maryland to live with his original owner where he was reunited with his four brothers Within six months of meeting them again three of his brothers escaped encouraging him to escape when he could While enslaved in Baltimore Black had the urge to read and though he bought books on several occasions his master found them and either burned them or gave them to his son Black is quick in his narrative to make the observation that in this case the education of a white child was not simply gained at the expense ...
Daniel L. Fountain
Baptist minister, missionary, and author, was born Charles Octavius Boothe in Mobile County, Alabama, to a Georgia‐born slave woman belonging to and carried west by the slave owner Nathan Howard Sr. Little is known of Boothe s Georgian parents but he proudly claimed that his great grandmother and stepgrandfather were Africans Boothe s description of his ancestors reflects his lifelong pride in his African heritage but he was equally effusive about the spiritual influence that these Christian elders had on his life His earliest recollections included his stepgrandfather s prayer life and singing of hymns and the saintly face and pure life of my grandmother to whom white and black went for prayer and for comfort in the times of their sorrows These early familial Christian influences were further reinforced by attending a Baptist church in the forest where white and colored people sat together to commune and to ...
Paul Finkelman and Richard Newman
escaped slave, was born on a plantation in Louisa County, Virginia, to unknown parents. As a youth, Brown lived with his parents, four sisters, and three brothers until the family was separated and his master hired him out at age fifteen to work in a tobacco factory in Richmond, Virginia. Brown's autobiography illuminates the vicissitudes of slave life but does not recount any further major events in his own life other than his marriage around 1836 to Nancy, the slave of a bank clerk, with whom he had three children. In August 1848 Nancy's owner sold her and her three children (Brown's children) to a slave trader who took them South. Brown begged his own master to purchase them, but he refused. Brown later wrote in his autobiography: “I went to my Christian master but he shoved me away According to his autobiography Brown actually saw his wife and ...