Welcome to our first discussion of the book “Doers of the Word”: African-American Women Speakers and Writers in the North (1830-1880) by Carla L. Peterson. If you are confused about this Black History Month segment, please see our post from last week that outlines the book discussion concept.
As Carla L. Peterson explains her purpose and begins to explore the lives of women highlighted throughout the book, I am most struck by the realization that before this book, I knew mostly names of black women connected to southern slavery. This is the narrative of black history. It ends and begins with slavery. When I think of northern abolitionists I think of white people but mostly white women. Black women have been completely erased from the northern abolitionist narrative, which allows for the development of a narrative that views northern whites as the savior of enslaved southern blacks. This, of course, continues an ongoing hierarchy of indebtedness and development of the benevolent oppressor. I believe the very act of expanding our awareness of the diversity of experiences of black people in the 1800s breaks down the oppressive nature of our history and forces us to view the black experience as an individual experience. Our history is not a homogeneous monument to one specific type of oppression (slavery). Just as there is not one narrative of oppression to capture black experience today, there was not of the past either. Continue reading