________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 26 . . . . March 12, 2010

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Frederick Douglass: From Slavery to Statesman. (Voices for Freedom: Abolitionist Heroes).

Henry Elliot.
St. Catharines, ON: Crabtree, 2010.
64 pp., pbk. & hc., $12.95 (pbk.), $22.36 (hc.).
ISBN 978-0-7787-4836-6 (pbk.), ISBN 978-0-7787-4820-5 (RLB.).

Subject Headings:
Douglass, Frederick, 1818-1895-Juvenile literature.
African American abolitionists-Biography-Juvenile literature.
Abolitionists-United States-Biography-Juvenile literature.
Antislavery movements-United States-History-19th century-Juvenile literature.

Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.

Review by Greg Bak.

*** /4

   
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Harriet Beecher Stowe: The Voice of Humanity in White America. (Voices for Freedom: Abolitionist Heroes).

Henry Elliot.
St. Catharines, ON: Crabtree, 2010.
64 pp., pbk. & hc., $12.95 (pbk.), $22.36 (hc.).
ISBN 978-0-7787-4837-3 (pbk.), ISBN 978-0-7787-4821-2 (RLB.).

Subject Headings:
Stowe, Harriet Beecher, 1811-1896-Juvenile literature.
Authors, American-19th century-Biography-Juvenile literature.
Abolitionists-United States-Biography-Juvenile literature.
United States-History-Civil War, 1861-1865-Literature and the war-Juvenile literature.

Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.

Review by Greg Bak.

**** /4

   
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Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad. (Voices for Freedom: Abolitionist Heroes).

Patricia Lantier.
St. Catharines, ON: Crabtree, 2010.
64 pp., pbk. & hc., $12.95 (pbk.), $22.36 (hc.).
ISBN 978-0-7787-4838-0 (pbk.), ISBN 978-0-7787-4822-9 (RLB.).

Subject Headings:
Tubman, Harriet, 1820?-1913-Juvenile literature.
Slaves-United States-Biography-Juvenile literature.
African American women-Biography-Juvenile literature.
Underground Railroad-Juvenile literature.

Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.

Review by Greg Bak.

*** /4

   
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John Brown: Putting Action Above Words. (Voices for Freedom: Abolitionist Heroes).

Geoffrey M. Horn.
St. Catharines, ON: Crabtree, 2010.
64 pp., pbk. & hc., $12.95 (pbk.), $22.36 (hc.).
ISBN 978-0-7787-4839-7 (pbk.), ISBN 978-0-7787-4823-6 (RLB.).

Subject Headings:
Brown, John, 1809-1859-Juvenile literature.
Abolitionists-United States-Biography-Juvenile literature.
Antislavery movements-United States-History-19th century-Juvenile literature.

Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.

Review by Greg Bak.

**** /4

   
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Sojourner Truth: Speaking Up for Freedom. (Voices for Freedom: Abolitionist Heroes).

Geoffrey M. Horn.
St. Catharines, ON: Crabtree, 2010.
64 pp., pbk. & hc., $12.95 (pbk.), $22.36 (hc.).
ISBN 978-0-7787-4840-3 (pbk.), ISBN 978-0-7787-4824-3 (RLB.).

Subject Headings:
Truth, Sojourner, d.1883-Juvenile literature.
African American abolitionists-Biography-Juvenile literature.
Abolitionists-United States-Biography-Juvenile literature.
African American women-Biography-Juvenile literature.

Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.

Review by Greg Bak.

**** /4

   
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William Lloyd Garrison: A Radical Voice Against Slavery. (Voices for Freedom: Abolitionist Heroes).

William David Thomas.
St. Catharines, ON: Crabtree, 2010.
64 pp., pbk. & hc., $12.95 (pbk.), $22.36 (hc.).
ISBN 978-0-7787-4841-0 (pbk.), ISBN 978-0-7787-4825-0 (RLB.).

Subject Headings:
Garrison, William Lloyd, 1805-1879-Juvenile literature.
African American abolitionists-Biography-Juvenile literature.
Antislavery movements-United States-History-19th century-Juvenile literature.

Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.

Review by Greg Bak.

**** /4

extract:

Isabella was saved from the cruel Neely family by her father [whose name was Bromefree]. After she had been living with the Neelys for a while, Bromefree paid her a visit. Seeing her poor condition, he began to ask some of the kinder Dutchmen he knew if one of them might be willing to buy Belle from the Neelys. At Bromefree's urging, Martimus Schryver, a Dutchman who had known the Hardenberghs, purchased Belle for $105. For John Neely, Jr., the sale meant a profit of five dollars, for Belle, leaving Neely was the answer to her prayers. (From Sojourner Truth: Speaking Up for Freedom.)

 

For those living in the mid-1800s, slavery was not always a clear-cut issue – not even for abolitionists, and not even for slaves. Take the example of Isabella, above. Bromefree, her father, also a slave, "saved" Belle from the cruelty of John Neely by arranging for her purchase by Martimus Schryver. Schryver was a kind owner, but there was no mistaking the relationship between Schryver and Belle: he owned her as surely as had Neely. Belle was the first slave he had ever purchased, and he used her gently. Nonetheless, he exploited her labour to run his inn, and he sold her when his business needs required it, realizing a sale price of $175 for a woman he had purchased for $105. In the coming years, Belle won her freedom and took the name Sojourner Truth and preserved the story of Schryver's kindness in her memoir. Does Schryver's action make him part of the problem of slavery or part of the solution of abolition?

     Schryver's "kindness" in purchasing Belle is a parable of the moral complexities of slavery. To take another example, Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation could have been crafted by the devil for its mix of malice and justice: the proclamation freed the slaves of states that sought to secede from the union, while states that were not in revolt continued to enslave their black populations. Lincoln's gambit was intended to sow discord in the South, but it equally caused division among abolitionists. Many, including Sojourner Truth, rejoiced in the immediate emancipation of so many, while other abolitionists, such as Frederick Douglass, emphasized the unjust continuation of the enslavement of many others.

     Crabtree Publishing's new series, "Voices for Freedom: Abolitionist Heroes," acknowledges the moral complexity that slavery represented for men and women in the nineteenth century. Through biographies of three slaves-turned-abolitionists and three white abolitionists, the series presents a satisfyingly rich and nuanced account of the end of American slavery. The books read well individually, each one using the life story of the subject to drive the narrative through its allotted 64 pages, complete with table of contents, timeline, index and glossary as well as copious illustrations. Chapters are divided into short sections, while the narrative is given context through sidebars and the occasionally lengthy captions that accompany the illustrations.

     The six biographies form an interconnected web. Each of the subjects appears in multiple stories, often receiving an extended sidebar in the books in which they are not the principal subject. Students who find their interest piqued by one book are naturally led to the next. Read together, the books echo each other in structure and themes while rendering their subjects in surprising complexity and liveliness. Harriet Beacher Stowe's financial woes receive their due, as does her difficulty in finding time to write amidst the demands of nineteenth-century domesticity. Frederick Douglass's infidelities are discretely mentioned. Sojourner Truth's adopted last name is explained in a section titled "The Meaning of Truth," which is immediately followed by a section that recounts some of the "legends" that Truth told about herself while delivering her popular abolitionist talks – for example, that she had had 13 children (she actually had five), or that she was 114 years old (she died at age 86). By identifying a few of Truth's untruths, the biography compels the reader to consider that "truth" is not always simple or clear.

     The most extraordinary book in the series must be the biography of John Brown. Biographer Geoffrey M. Horn provides context for Brown's unbending opposition to slavery by describing his autocratic rule within his own family and recounting how fundamentalist Christianity led him to a radical philosophy of righteous violence. By the time the reader has followed Brown to the remote base camp from which he led his followers in their famous armed assault on the federal armory at Harper's Ferry, the parallels with Islamist terrorist training camps in our own day are obvious and disturbing. There can be little doubt that, were he alive today, Brown would be considered a terrorist. Does the fact that he was a terrorist in the name of abolition justify his actions?

     It is a credit to the authors of the individual biographies and to Crabtree Publishing that these books point readers to this kind of questioning. This is a series that provides sufficient biographical detail for student projects, even while opening up much larger questions about slavery and American society.

     In Frederick Douglass: From Slavery to Statesman, Henry Elliot provides an overview of Douglass's life, including some of the complexities of his character. Elliot's Harriet Beacher Stowe: The Voice of Humanity in White America is remarkable for the complexity of its depiction of Stowe, including her difficulties in finding time to write, her ongoing financial woes, and the incredible success of her novel Uncle Tom's Cabin. Elliot's biography of Stowe ends with a brief, but effective, discussion of how, despite Stowe's best intentions, the term "Uncle Tom" evolved in American popular culture to become pejorative.

     Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad, by Patricia Lantier, provides a readable and concise account of Tubman's remarkable life.

     Geoffrey M. Horn' John Brown: Putting Actions above Words is a compelling and complex account of John Brown's life, one that leaves readers to come to their own opinions about the morality of Brown's personal life and public actions. Horn also authored Sojourner Truth: Speaking Up for Freedom. Truth is a fascinating figure, and Horn's biography conveys her quirkiness as well as the eloquence that enabled her to command the attention of abolitionist societies and religious camp meetings.

     William Lloyd Garrison's opposition to slavery provided focus for much of his personal and professional life, and William D. Thomas's biography, William Lloyd Garrison: A Radical Voice Against Slavery describes his commitment to the cause as newspaperman and as a public intellectual.

     Overall, the "Voices for Freedom: Abolitionist Heroes" series is...

Highly Recommended.

Greg Bak is an archivist with Library and Archives Canada in Gatineau, PQ.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.
 

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