Monday, August 8, 2011

"Beyond the Scenes, or Thirty Years a Slave...." by Elizabeth Keckley

Before you read this you need to know that this is my first review of an "electronic" book, or in this case, a book on line. You also need to know the full title, which did not fit above. It is properly known as "Behind the Scenes, or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House" by Elizabeth Keckley, 1818-1907.

Washington, DC has always been a riddle to me. On the one hand it has always been the cradle of modern democracy, while at other times it has been, at best, a city best known for it's hypocrisy. Never was this more true than during the days of slavery.

It is hard to fathom a nation that was founded on the principles of all men being equal by the will of God, while at the same time there were slaves not only working the plantations of the Southern states, but toiling as well, as dosmestics and laborers, in the nations capital city. That some were even held in bondage in the White House itself, is even more astounding.

In this narrative, Mrs. Keckley describes her birth in 1818 as a slave, and also her youth, being abused physically, and later, sexually, at the hands of her owners. She even fathers, unwillingly, a son by one of her "masters." Determined to win freedom for herself and her son by "manumission", she is at first denied this course of action. When her master dies, her mistress allows her to raise the money and buy her freedom. Working as a seamstress, this took three years, from 1852 until 1855 when she and her son were "emancipated." She then went to Baltimore, Maryland where she worked as a seamstress, and also attempted to organize other women of color into the trade. In 1860, when that effort had failed, she moved to Washington, D.C. This decision would both change her life, as well as cement her place in history.

In mid 1860 Mrs. Keckley found herself broke and unable to pay for the license necessary for free Negroes to remain in Washington for longer than 6 months. Remember, this was the capital city of our country. The license was finally given to her, free of charge, by the Mayor. In a strange set of circumstances, she becomes employed to make a gown for Mrs. Robert E. Lee, and after that, she is summoned by Mrs. Lincoln, upon her arrival in the capital, and becomes her seamstress. She also becomes Mrs. Lincoln's life long friend and confidante, which makes this narrative even more interesting.

This is my first experience with a book "on line", the web address is provided below. I invite you to read it and share your thoughts on this remarkable woman and her story. In complete honesty, I must tell you that I found it hard to read the book on line, and will be looking for the book itself to explore it more fully. But just the ability to go on line and find this book is a wonderful use of technology.

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