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The Classic Slave Narratives
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56 of 63 people found the following review helpful
HALL OF FAMEon January 22, 2001
The practice of enslavement in the Americas is a phenomenon of staggering proportions. It is also one of the most thoroughly documented systems of human rights abuse in history. "The Classic Slave Narratives" brings together four powerful testaments of individuals who survived enslavement in the Americas. The book also contains an insightful introduction by scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
As Gates notes in the introduction, it has been estimated that more than 6,000 ex-slaves left some form of written testament between 1703 and 1944--an amazing body of literature. "The Classic Slave Narratives" is thus just a tiny part of a vast genre. Specifically, this anthology contains "the Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano," "The History of Mary Prince," "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass," and Harriet Jacobs' "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl."
Each of the four powerful texts offers an effective complement to the others in the collection. In other words, each narrative illuminates at least one unique and important aspect of the American slave experience. Olaudah Equiano, for example, tells what it was like for a native African to be enslaved and transported across the Atlantic in a slave ship. Prince illuminates the life of a slave woman on the Caribbean islands. Douglass, born to a slave mother and a white father, describes in detail his quest for literacy. And Jacobs offers an incisive window into the sexual pathology of the slaveowning society.
These four texts are both valuable historical documents and fascinating works of literature. Much American literature--autobiography, poetry, novels, essays, and other genres--demonstrates the influence of, or parallels to, these pivotal texts. "The Classic Slave Narratives" is a necessary text for those interested in United States and Caribbean history, in American literature, in literacy, or in human rights.
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38 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on November 4, 1998
These are stories of courage against great odds, first-hand accounts of an incredible institutionalized holocaust that was standard operating procedure in this country for hundreds of years. Some of these writings were best sellers of their time, but today they are too much an ill-kept secret. Yet I bet the average person living in the U.S. today only knows the name of one of the authors of these narratives. Read a first-hand account of the middle passage. Learn about the woman who spent almost a decade in a crawl space to escape the life of a slave. Find out the story of a man who risked life and limb to give public lectures against slavery, while he himself was still not legally free. You will never know what has been hidden from you, you owe it to yourself, your mother, and your child to read these stories told by Black people who lived through, and fought against, slavery. I also highly recommend Beloved, both the movie and the book, as well as the recent PBS series on slavery.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on January 18, 2012
Dr. Henry Louis Gates continues his important work in this volume. It should be mandatory in every middle school in America, without exception. Besides breathing emotional life into the lives of slaves - which is always missing in the broader historical context - one comes to realize how England, France, America and Portugal became such wealthy nations: through many generations of people consigned to labor from early childhood until they died. Dr. Gates doesn't need to make this political observation - the reader arrives at that conclusion from the narratives themselves. The narrators communicate how their minds and hearts stayed on freedom. Such thoughts occur while walking to the fields, while forced to observe others being brutalized, or when they have been promised freedom, only to find themselves sold to another owner and bound for the West Indies instead. When the last page is turned, not only does the reader feel a profound gratitude - for the narrators, for those whose stories were not recorded, for those who died on the middle passage or jumped overboard instead, and for our own relative freedom - but one understands that the issue of reparations from England, France, and the U.S. isn't far-fetched at all. It would have been the only decent thing to have done. I felt deep gratitude to Dr. Gates also for helping to ensure that this history is preserved, made available, and told over and again. The loving care with which this volume has been edited is evident.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Henry Louis Gates provides readers with an important contribution to the many first-hand accounts of enslavement. His scintillating introduction ties together the life and times of four African Americans who narrated their own story of slavery: Olaudah Equiano, Mary Prince, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Jacobs. The diversity chosen by Gates allows readers to gain a comprehensive perspective of the horrors of slavery: women/men, South/North, born in African/born in America. Readers desiring additional first-hand accounts are encouraged to consider compilations by Yetman of the slave interviews.

Reviewer: Bob Kellemen, Ph.D. is the author of Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction , Spiritual Friends: A Methodology of Soul Care And Spiritual Direction, and Soul Physicians.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 4, 2013
I'm so glad to have purchased this book!! I was a teenager during the Civil Rights Movement and there were little to no indepth stories or articles about the lives/experiences of my ancestors during the slave years. Oh sure, we heard or read about such notables as Harriet Tubman, the 'Moses' of the Underground Railroad, Frederick Douglas, andd George Washington Carver, and others, but this narrative gives the reader an insight into the lives of some of the obscure individuals, not mentioned in history books.

This book or others similar should be read in addition to the history books about the founding of the United States.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 28, 2011
Each of the stories in this book are some of my favorite in the genre of African American literature. Each is engaging and interesting, appealing to the reader not only as a historical work but as a narrative and story.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
A friend had given me a copy of "The Bondwoman's Narrative" (great read) written by a slave that passed for white and escaped to the north. It was so surprising and full of things they never teach about when you cover the topic of American slavery in school. even some native americans could (and did) keep slaves.I couldn't put that book down and wanted to read more accounts of how things were, so I found this book.

It's such a small representation of slavery, but significant, none the less. It's several first hand accounts put into a collection. A very surprising read, I learned so many things I just had no idea about. It's sad and scary what these people went through, what was conditioned to them to be "normal" just to name a couple:

slave mothers being seperated from their children, them being considered "property" for sale

women being mistreaded by plantation owners wives because of their husbands affections for (and fathering children with) slaves

religion (Christianity) being permitted and used a tool to keep slaves "in their place"

It should be required reading. This is not a modern day account of what we should know. There is no agenda, no glossing over details, nothing is made to be outrageous and shocking just for the sake of it (although it certainly is). It's just raw, honest truth.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 15, 2013
I loved this book. I was forced to get it and read it for a history course but I loved it. I love slave narratives. Some of the content is very sad though.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 12, 2014
it is a college textbook and I personally enjoyed it giving a great insight into the lives of slaves and their abusive owners.
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on November 21, 2014
This is an amazing collection of first-hand descriptions of slavery in America, and I highly recommend it. I especially liked "Incidents in the life of a slave girl," which is strikingly parallel to The Diary of Anne Frank. I think the two should be read together for a deeper understanding of these two terrible periods in human history.
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