Incident in the Life of Slave Girl
Constance L. Jackson is a film producer and director who was so captivated by the life of 19th century abolitionist Lydia Maria Child that she decided to turn her passion into a personal crusade and share with the world Child’s accomplishments.
Jackson said she remembers reading a book titled “Incident in the Life of Slave Girl” and being struck by the preface, which was written by Child. It described the horrors of slavery.
The book itself was written to shock people into the reality of a slave’s life. Child wanted to prove to the American people that the notion of slavery was a farce. She wanted to disprove the Southern belief that only dark-skinned people were destined to be slaves. She was outraged at the way slave owners used black women as “baby factories.” And she explained how over time, white people became slaves as a result of the so-called One-Fifth Law, which stated that anyone who was one-fifth black was considered black.
“I finally found a female hero besides my mother,” Jackson said. “I did not look to anyone in this society to be a role model.”
Jackson decided that the story of this white abolitionist should be told in a documentary — one that would educate as well as entertain.
“The more I dug into her past,” Jackson said, “the more I found out that she was flawless on her position of freedom, freedom for all.”
Jackson’s homage to Child didn’t end there, however. She also nominated her heroin for induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York. And last year, Child was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame, along with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and former First Lady of the United States, Rosalyn Carter, known for her humanitarian efforts.
While Child will now forever be honored for her work as an abolitionist, she is perhaps best known for her 19th-century poem, “Over the River and Through the Wood.”
Over the river and through the woods,
To grandfather’s house we go;
The horses know the way,
to carry the sleigh
Through the white and drifted snow…
As an author, Child expressed her views through many different avenues. Her works include numerous anti-slavery tracts, appeals on behalf of Native American rights, and investigations on women’s status and rights in the United States and abroad. She also wrote a number of how-to type books, such as “Frugal House Wife,” “Mother’s Book,” “The Girls Own Book,” and “Family Nurse.” They helped women with the rigors of raising youth, etiquette, and offered anecdotal stories for young girls.
Child became known as a woman who would always help someone in need. In a collection of Child’s correspondence, “Lydia Maria Child; Selected Letters, 1817-1880” she wrote to Lucy Osgood:
“It is my mission to help in the breaking down of classes, and to make all men feel as if they were brethren of the same family, sharing the same rights, the same capabilities, and the same responsibilities. While my hand can hold a pen, I will use it to this end; and while my brain can earn a dollar, I will devote it to this end.”
Child had a fascination with American Indians and their history, as well. Her first literary work was titled, “Hobomok,” a fictional piece about an American Indian and a Colonial woman who fell in love. It was written in the late 1820s, and literary critics of the time acknowledged it as one of the first novels deal with the mixing of races.
However, Child’s most controversial work was her book “An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans,” which called for immediate action to end all forms of racial discrimination — from employment bans, to segregated schools, to anti-miscegenation laws.
Historian Deborah Clifford said Child is someone people need to know about — an important 19th-century woman who demanded reform and had a “dislike of polite society.”
“She did what she had to do, did not care what people thought,” Clifford said. “She was at her best when she was angry, and she was angry about the way African Americans, women and Indians were treated.”
Lori Kenschaft, a professor and historian, viewed Child as one who changed opinions by informing people. She wanted to live in a world where slavery was not tolerated.
Said Kenschaft: “Living in a world where everybody, whatever gender or tone or shade of skin was treated as an individual not as a member of a group — that’s the real way we honor her legacy.”
by Cynthia Sorrells
Staff Writer, CommUniversity
California State University at Dominguez Hills