“The white chillen tries teach me to read and write but I didn’ larn much, ‘cause I allus workin’. Mother was workin’ in the house, and she cooked too. She say she used to hide in the chimney corner and listen to what the white folks say. When freedom was ‘clared, marster wouldn’ tell ‘em, but mother she hear him tellin’ mistus that the slaves was free but they didn’ know it and he’s not gwineter tell ‘em till he makes another crop or two. When mother hear that she say she slip out the chimney corner and crack her heels together four times and shouts, ‘I’s free, I’s free.’ Then she runs to the field, ‘gainst marster’s will and tol’ all the other slaves and they quit work. Then she run away and in the night she slip into a big ravine near the house and have them bring me to her. Marster, he come out with his gun and shot at mother but she run down the ravine and gits away with me.”

TEMPIE CUMMINS, who was born at Brookeland, Texas. At the time of her interview (between 1936 and 1938) she lived in Jasper, Texas.

Excerpt from the Slave Narratives: a Folk History of Slavery in the United States From Interviews with Former Slaves, Texas Narratives, Part 1; Work Projects Administration, Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938

Source: American Memory, Library of Congress


September 3rd 1838: Douglass escapes

On this day in 1838, famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass escaped from slavery in Maryland. Douglass was born into slavery, and when he was around twelve years old was taught the alphabet by the wife of his plantation owner. The young Douglass was soon able to read and write fluently, but had to keep his literacy a secret as slaveholders decided that an educated slave was dangerous. When it was discovered that he was teaching other slaves to read, Douglass was sent to a ‘slave breaker’, who frequently and brutally whipped him for alleged ‘insubordination’. Douglass’s education, and his experience of the horrors of enslavement, refined his critique of the institution of slavery. Douglass successfully escaped from his enslavement in September 1838, using the papers of a free sailor to board a train headed North, eventually arriving in the New York safe house of abolitionist David Ruggles. Douglass went on to become a prominent abolitionist, famous for his eloquent oratory and his intelligence, which disproved slaveholders’ claims that slaves were not intelligent enough to be free. He published multiple narratives of his life in slavery, which drew attention to the injustice of slavery in the Southern states, and campaigned for civil rights issues in the antebellum era. Douglass continued the fight for equal rights after the Civil War and emancipation, advocating the enfranchisement of African-Americans and women. In 1872, the radical Equal Rights Party nominated him for Vice-President - with feminist activist Victoria Woodhull for President - making him the first African-American nominated for the office. Frederick Douglass died in 1895, aged seventy-seven.

“On Monday, the third day of September, 1838, in accordance with my resolution, I bade farewell to the city of Baltimore, and to that slavery which had been my abhorrence from childhood.”
- from ’Life and Times of Frederick Douglass’, 1881


Octavia E. Butler’s notes on her process of writing Kindred, her critically-acclaimed 1979 novel.

Photos by Clockshop, taken at the Octavia E. Butler papers at the Huntington Library, Museum & Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California.  @huntingtonlibrary

Radio Imagination celebrates the life and work of Pasadena science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler (1947–2006). Organized by Clockshop, the program centers on ten contemporary art and literary commissions that explore Butler’s archive at the Huntington Library. New work will premiere alongside performances, film screenings, and literary events throughout the year.


Never know what you’ll find “Behind the Scenes” at the Dibner Library for the History of Science and Technology! Written by former slave and modiste to Mary Todd Lincoln, Elizabeth Keckley, the book’s full title is “Behind the Scenes, or, Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House.” Keckley was played by actress Gloria Reuben in 2012’s Lincoln.
We haven’t digitized our copy, but UNC-Chapel Hill has, if you’d like to read it (do!)
Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1938 contains more than 2,300 first-person accounts of slavery

Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938 contains more than 2,300 first-person accounts of slavery and 500 black-and-white photographs of former slaves. These narratives were collected in the 1930s as part of the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and assembled and microfilmed in 1941 as the seventeen-volume Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from Interviews with Former Slaves. This online collection is a joint presentation of the Manuscript and Prints and Photographs Divisions of the Library of Congress and includes more than 200 photographs from the Prints and Photographs Division that are now made available to the public for the first time. Born in Slavery was made possible by a major gift from the Citigroup Foundation.


Black History: Slave Narratives (Part 2)

The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself (1849), Boston, 1849

Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, an American Slave, New York, 1849 

The Fugitive Blacksmith, or Events in the History of James W. C. Pennington, London, 1849 

Twelve Years a Slave, Narrative of Solomon Northup, Auburn, and Buffalo, New York and London, 1853 

Slave Life in Georgia: A Narrative of the Life, Sufferings and Escape of John Brown, London, 1855

The Life of John Thompson, A Fugitive Slave, Worcester, Massachusetts, 1855 

The Kidnapped and the Ransomed, Being the Personal Recollections of Peter Still and his Wife “Vina,” after Forty Years of Slavery, by Kate E. R. Pickard, New York, 1856  

Running a thousand Miles for Freedom, or the Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery, London, 1860 

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, by Harriet Jacobs, Boston, 1861 

The Experience of a Slave in South Carolina by John Andrew Jackson, London, 1862

Narrative of the Life of J. D. Green, a Runaway Slave from Kentucky, Huddersfield, 1864 (no image)

Mary Reynolds (ex-slave) Louisiana, 1827(no image) 

The last word: everyone deserves not just to survive, but to live. This is the most important legacy of Solomon Northup. I dedicate this award to all the people who have endured slavery. And the 21 million people who still suffer slavery today. Thank you very much. Thank you.
—  Steve McQueen’s acceptance speech for the Oscar for Best Picture for ‘12 Year’s a Slave’. Learn more about the film, the book, and its history with the free collection of articles from American Literary History.

Olaudah Equiano’s autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, is one of the earliest examples of a slave narrative.  In it, Equiano describes his abduction from Africa, his separation from his sister, his forced voyage through the Middle Passage, and his life as a slave.  After Equiano purchased his own freedom in 1767, he moved to Britain, feeling it unsafe to remain in the British colonies as a freed African; there, he became one of the leaders of the Sons of Africa, an abolitionist group made up of Africans living in London.

The book was very successful and went through eight editions before Equiano passed away in 1797.  Pictured here, we have here the third edition, which was published in 1790 and bears an engraving of Equiano on the frontispiece.


Born on this day…

December 24, 1853*

Octavia Rogers Albert: Author 


The House of Bondage: or Charlotte Brooks and Other Slaves  - The Schomburg Library of Nineteenth-Century Black Women Writers 

[F]ormer slave Octavia Albert set about, after Emancipation, collecting the true stories of those that “terrible institution” affected most. That raw material gave rise to The House of Bondage, a refutation to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and an answer to other works of literature of the period that purported to show the horror of slavery even though their authors had never set foot in the South. First published in 1890, this is an important example of a sadly small genre: 19th-century literature by African-American women. 

Additional Quick Read:

Black Past: Octavia Victoria Rogers Albert (1853-1890)

Read the Electronic Edition of The House of Bondage here 

*Some sources state Dec. 25th as Albert’s day of birth

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One can argue about whether Anglo-American slave narratives are of any use for the study of slavery in the Dutch colonies, but for my present purpose it is more interesting to note the remarkable fact that these narratives are connected to real-life, colonial slavery at all. Since the late eighteenth century, virtually no Dutch critic has thought of Anglo-American slave narratives as meaningful tools to discuss or reflect on the slave trade, slavery, or its legacy. On the other hand, slave narratives did make sense as sensational, gothic leisure literature, and as texts that underscored orthodox Protestant interpretations of slavery as a spiritual deprivation that called for personal and collective transformation. Only in the late twentieth century did these traditional Protestant readings give way to post-colonial interpretations stressing Black experience, Black agency, and Black subjectivity.
—  Marijke Huisman, Beyond the Subject: Anglo-American Slave Narratives in the Netherlands, 1789-2013
The book contains 42 of the best Louisiana narratives, many of which were not sent to Washington with the rest of the interviews but housed at Melrose Plantation in Natchitoches. These invaluable interviews have been seen by few.

Born on this day…

November 6, 1814

William Wells Brown: Abolitionist & Author


From Fugitive to Free Man: The Autobiographies of William Wells Brown

Born into slavery in 1814, William Wells Brown escaped to freedom and became a writer whose works, even more than those of his famous contemporary, Frederick Douglass, were prophetic of the future of African American literature.

Travels of William Wells Brown

This is the remarkable story of two trips by a fugitive slave: his dramatic and desperate journey up the Mississippi to the North into freedom, and his glorious voyage as an eloquent ambassador of the abolitionists to Europe.

Clotel: or, The President’s Daughter

First published in December 1853, Clotel was written amid then unconfirmed rumors that Thomas Jefferson had fathered children with one of his slaves. The story begins with the auction of his mistress, here called Currer, and their two daughters, Clotel and Althesa. The Virginian who buys Clotel falls in love with her, gets her pregnant, seems to promise marriage—then…continue reading


“The last struggle for our rights, the battle for our civilization, is entirely with ourselves.”—William Wells Brown

Additional Quick Read:

William Wells Brown may be the most famous 19th century African American writer you’ve never heard of

Further Reading

To Supplement Dr. Christina Sharpe’s essay, Black Life, Annotated, TNI asked Sharpe to create a syllabus for further reading on the subject and she graciously obliged, with help from Mariame Kaba and Dr. Tamara Nopper.

Introduction to The Prison Industrial Complex

I recommend everything on the blog Prison Culture “How the PIC Structures Our World…”

The Black Youth Project

Young People Continue To Talk About the Cops

Louder Than A Bomb 2014: Chicago Youth Have Their Say 

Nicholas K. Peart, “Why Is the N.Y.P.D. After Me?

C Angel Torres and Naima Paz, Young Women’s Empowerment Project’s Bad Encounter Line zine

Rose Brewer and Nancy Heitzeg, The Racialization of Crime and Punishment: Criminal Justice, Color-Blind Racism, and the Political Economy of the Prison Industrial Complex

Sylvia Wynter, “No Humans Involved: An Open Letter to My Colleagues

On Fugitivity and Captivity

Slave narratives, from Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of A Slave Girl: Written by Herself, to Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass An American Slave: Written by Himself, to David Walker’s Appeal, to Ida B. Well’s The Red Record

Keguro Macharia, fugitivity

Fred Moten and Stefano Harvey, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study

Tavia Nyong’o, Black Survival in the Uchromatic Dark

Percy Howard Interviews Frank Wilderson Frank B. Wilderson, “Wallowing in the contradictions”, Parts 1 and 2

Jared Sexton, Captivity, By Turns: A Comment on the Work of Ashley Hunt

Connie Wun, Disciplining Violence

Tamara K. Nopper and Kenyon Farrow, Why the AFL-CIO must address Black criminalization and (un)employment: A position paper

To Watch & Listen

Joy James, Refusing Blackness as Victimization: Trayvon Martin and the Black Cyborgs

Angela Davis, On the Prison Industrial Complex

Ruth Gilmore, Beyond The Prison Industrial Complex

Murder on a Sunday Morning (documentary)

Damien Sojoyner, “Trouble Man: The Limitations of Policy Oriented Black Masculinity

You Don’t Really Know Us,” Chicago Kids Tell News Media

Simone Browne, Dark Sousveillance Race, Surveillance and Resistance


A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison by Reginald Dwayne Betts

States of Confinement: Policing, Detention, and Prisons edited by Joy James

Warfare in the American Homeland: Policing and Prison in a Penal Democracy edited by Joy James (2007)

Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence, and America’s Prison Nation by Beth Richie

Global Lockdown: Race, Gender and the Prison-Industrial Complex edited by Julia Sudbury

Live from Death Row by Mumia Abu-Jamal

Police Brutality: An Anthology edited by Jill Nelson