by Jeanne Gehret


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cover of book by Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

I’m still processing, both mentally and photographically, what I saw this week at the Talman Building in Rochester, NY. But as we celebrate Black History Month, here’s one tidbit I brought back for you. My heroine Harriet Jacobs, who self-published this book before the Civil War, had a reading room one floor above Frederick Douglass’s office in the Talman Building. What an amazing, brave woman she was!

Harriet was sexually harassed by her enslaver. When he threatened to harm her children if she did not submit, she faked an escape. Instead of claiming freedom for herself, she remained in an attic near her offspring for seven years. If you want to experience for yourself how small a space Harriet hid in for so long, visit the very worthwhile Underground Railroad exhibit at the Rochester Museum & Science Center. Plan to spend at least an hour there if possible.

Harriet eventually made her way north to Rochester, where she gained connections with many abolitionists. Underground railroad helpers Amy and Isaac Post, Quaker friends of the Anthony family, gave Harriet lodging and helped her recover from her years of trauma. Even before the end of the Civil War, when she could have been captured by slave-hunters, she kept a reading room near Frederick Douglass. The insurance office of abolitionist Daniel Read (D.R.) Anthony and his father was just across the street.

We have much to consider this month! More on Harriet–and Douglass and the Talman Building–later, I promise.

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