Grade Levels: 3 - 6
The first autobiography written by an African American woman and published in the U.S. was Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, by Harriet Brent Jacobs (1813-1897) . This remarkable woman, enslaved in North Carolina, spent seven years hiding in the attic of her Grandmother's house until she had an opportunity to escape.
"A small shed had been added to my grandmother's house years ago. Some boards were laid across the joists at the top, and between these boards and the roof was a very small garret, never occupied by anything but rats and nlice. . . .The garret was only nine feet long and 7 feet cleep. The highest part was only three feet high, and sloped down abruptly to the loose board floor. There was no admission for either light or air . . the air was stiflin8; the darkness complete ... I could sleep comfortably on one side; but the slope was so sudden that I could not turn on the other without hitting the roof. The rats and mice ran over my bed.... Morning came I knew it only by the noises heard; for in my small den day and night were the same. I suffered for air more than for light ... for weeks I was tormented by hundreds of little red insects, fine as a needle point that pierced through my skin, and produced an intolerable burning. The good grandmother gave me herb teas and cooling medicines, and finally I got rid of them. The heat of my den was intense, for nothing but thin shingles protected me from the scorching summer's sun. . . . Autumn came with a pleasant abatement of heat.... But when winter came, the cold penetrated through the thin shingle roof, I was dreadfully chilled.... But I was not comfortless. I heard the voices of my children. There was joy and sadness in the sound. It made my tears flow. How I longed to speak to them! I was eager to look upon their faces; but there was no hole, no crack, through which I could peep.... It seemed honible to sit or lie in a cramped position day after day, without one gleam of light. Yet I would have chosen this, rather than my lot as a slave. . . ."
Harriet Brent Jacobs eventually escaped to the North. When, after seven years, she came down from the garret, her legs would not walk; she had to retrain her muscles to carry her after seven years of inaction.
Excerpt from Multicultural Activities for the American History Classroom.
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