This unit has developed a vivid picture of strong white women stretching their traditional roles and forging new pathways for women which have altered society permanently . It is now time to focus in on the women who experienced a pain which pierced so deeply that the heart of a nation was dissected and its’ people forced into action. These women were the African slaves whose strength is paralleled by none; women whose families were torn apart, women who were abused and tortured, women who only had their dignity, pride, love, and faith to assure them the strength to survive. They have been passing this strength on from generation to generation with the hope that some day black women will be recognized with the celebration that is theirs to claim.
This study will be enhanced by the actual accounts of slaves writing and telling their experiences. These testimonies will be witnessed through selected readings in the book edited by John Blassingame entitled,
, and by various children’s titles which will be read and digested through small group projects to be found in the activity section of this unit.
One such account is the narrative of
, a slave born in North Carolina. He tells of the day-to-day, life of his mother, who was the only woman in the master’s house bringing up his children and the slave children as well. He tells of the endless day-to-day, hour by hour, minute by minute, jobs she had to perform and how at 9 or 10 o’clock at night she, tired and weary, came to her own house and began taking care of her own family’s needs He tells of how she raised her master’s children only to have them grow up and whip her for not pleasing their every whim.
Another example of the strength of black slave women comes from
, washer woman, enslaved in Kentucky. Her testimony comes to us as part of the American Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission interviews of 1863 found in Blassingme’s book. She tells of her children being slaves because she was a slave. She hadn’t seen her little girl for ten months. She points to a bright nine or ten year old boy and tells that he is about big enough to go also. Imagine the pain of bringing up a child with the uncertainty about whether he or she may be taken away from you.
A children’s non-fiction piece of literature used in this study as a tool to further focus on the experiences of slave women is
by Mary E. Lyons. This combines the story quilts and story of
born into slavery in 1837. This book has many excellent pictures showing slave women at work. The children can gain an awareness of the hardworking lives of plantation slave women through a reading and experiencing of this book through activities and projects detailed at the end of this unit.
Many black women were excellent needle-workers making use of scraps of leftover cloth from sewing for their mistresses to sew clothes and blankets for their own families. Quilts were essential for survival. This book helps children grasp the difficult living circumstances of being a slave. Children can learn how quilts provided beauty, fun, and even romance to ease the hard times of slavery. The book talks about Quilting Bees that slave women attended. The children have already seen this as a Euro-American form of entertainment and way to social communication and now will see it connected to black women also.
Children are always interested in the ceremonies and celebrations of different cultures and marriage traditions are high on the list of the ones children can relate to their own lives. Students are able to experience the wedding of Harriet and Armstead in this book giving children a very clear picture of the ceremony. The broomstick wedding held in the slave quarters can be performed with the children in the classroom. The rules and formalities of slave women and men marrying related in this book are something children will find interesting and engaging as they try to find their own clear picture of life as a slave.
The time line showing Harriet Powers’ life and difficult poverty continues after the Emancipation Proclamation declares slaves free on New Years Day 1863. Children will be a witness to the ability of one traveling into a different world through the use of quilting. Exemplified by Harriet Powers and her quilts, children can see how creativity can set you free.