The civil rights movements during the 1950’s and 60’s created a climate for a new appreciation toward African American struggles through bondage and into liberation. This created a new sweep of writers that tried to use historical roots of physical, psychological, and social oppression that were used to compare, contrast, and often parallel the meaning of freedom from the previous century and the current times.
Fredric Douglass and Harriet Jacobs published popular autobiographies, but there were authors who had never experienced the bondage of slavery who were able to capture the attention of the nation with fictional characters and scenarios woven into the factual information about the atrocities of slavery .
The most popular and the most fiercely debated fictional slave narrative is Uncle Tom’s Cabin , written by Harriet Beecher Stowe. This heart-warming, but often graphic tale of a lovable preacher’s fight to freedom was profoundly influenced by Stowe’s study of slavery in Kentucky as well as information Fredric Douglass and Josiah Henson’s autobiographies as slaves.
The classic novelist Mark Twain was also successful in his fictional account of a fugitive slave as he fought alongside a young, white boy to gain his freedom in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn . The main character is eventually able to overcome the modes of thinking that society had encouraged and comes to see Jim as an equal, which is the most critical point of the book during the time period.
Another acclaimed author that aided the civil rights movements is Richard Wright. He created a number of fictional works, including a melodramatic and graphic story of racial conflicts in the south titled Uncle Tom’s Children . The Long Dream also brought to question a lot of the country’s racial prejudices. Wright often used more anger than art in his writing, but his skill as a novelist left a definite and disturbing emotional impact.
Ernest J. Gaines produced another influential novel in the form of a fictional slave narrative called The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. Similar to Mark Twain, the majority of his novels share a fictional setting of a small, southern town in Louisiana which focused on people, traditions, and dialects of rural Southern communities. Like most of the other narrative artists, Gaines strove to convey the harsh and bitter truths surrounding American slavery, and how the prejudices in society could not be ignored.
The novel Jubilee, written by Margaret Walker, is considered one of the first novels presenting the African American experience in the south from a black female point of view to nineteenth-century society. Drawing from the information from both folk traditions and Walker’s family history, the story encounters the clashes between slavery and freedom as well as the contrast between war and peace. There can be connections made between Walker’s statements on Reconstruction with the civil rights movements of the 1950’s and 60’s.
Toni Morrison won multiple awards, including the 1993 Nobel Prize laureate for her many works of fiction he wrote to “bear witness” to the harms done by American slavery and the possibility to heal what had been harmed. Her books were acclaimed to have a “universal resonance,” and a few of her works were made into films. Among her most famous works were Sula, Beloved, Paradise, Love, and A mercy . She continues to create fictional pieces that depict in both stark and forgiving lights the issues of American society.
Sheila Moses wrote a fictional narrative based on the “life and legal precedent” of infamous slave Dred Scott, and his attempt to restore justice for the colored people of America. She dedicates the book to Dred Scott himself, along with his wife. She also says that she wrote the novel for the sake of “every man, woman, and child who was born, lived, and died as a slave, and to those who were freed from slavery. You were not forgotten.”
Bibliography Andrews, W. L. (2011). Slave Narrative. Encyclopedia Americana. Retrieved April 26, 2011, from Grolier Online http://ea.grolier.com/article?id=0359275-00 Ferguson, D. (2011). Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life among the Lowly. Encyclopedia Americana . Retrieved April 27, 2011, from Grolier Online http://ea.grolier.com/article?id=0397110-00 Covici, P., Jr. (2011). Huckleberry Finn, Adventures of. Encyclopedia Americana . Retrieved April 27, 2011, from Grolier Online http://ea.grolier.com/article?id=0208010-00 Bracy, W. (2011). Wright, Richard Nathaniel (1908 – 1960). Encyclopedia Americana. Retrieved April 27, 2011, From Grolier Online http://ea.grolier.com/profile_article?assetid=0424660-00 Morrison, Toni (1931- ). (2011). Encyclopedia Americana. Retrieved April 27, 2011, from Grolier Online http://ea.grolier.com/profile_article?assetid=277050-00 Secondary Sources
Margaret Walker, How I Wrote "Jubilee" (Chicago: Third World, 1972).