Harriet Jacobs: Womanhood, Slavery, and God’s Providence

Throughout Black History Month, I wanted to speak on black history, without drawing from the people that are usually brought up during this time. Not to say that they aren’t great to speak about, but I didn’t want to take the easier route and just say something just because it’s obligatory to. But today, the last day of this celebration, I wanted to highlight a woman who persevered through some of the most wicked and unjust treatment and made a difference in black and American history by God’s providence.

Her name is Harriet Jacobs and she’s not someone that usually comes up on our radar, but a few years back I came across her book Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and I was completely taken in by her story. Harriet was a writer, abolitionist, and a speaker who escaped her enslavement with her children, and this book is an account of what took place and how she escaped. The uniqueness of her account is that it speaks to the unfortunate dynamic of what it meant to be a woman and a slave. Dealing with the oppression of slavery and sexual abuse is something that wasn’t covered often from a woman’s experience, and when you read her book you see the cruel realities that woman like her had to face.

Harriet Jacobs

Even though it’s been awhile since I read her account, it was particularly striking to me how she was able to highlight the inconsistency of the slave masters, the culture that accepted it, and speak to the justice that God gives on her behalf. The abuse and misuse of Scripture that was used to support this wicked enslavement was called out for what it was, and it drove home how God never forgets when it comes to injustice and wickedness. Here’s one quote below:

“They seem to satisfy their consciences with the doctrine that God created the Africans to be slaves. What a libel upon the heavenly Father, who “made of one blood all nations of men!”” 

Harriet Jacobs “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl”

This account of her experience growing up as a slave, spending seven years in hiding, and getting her children to freedom is something that should never be forgotten. In fact, it should’ve never happened, and I wish it never did. There are countless other stories that are untold, and I’m grateful that her account continues to serve as a witness against what took place in this country, as well as a witness of God’s providence that was involved in calling America to account for what was done.

Some would say that God was not there, because slavery endured for so long, that He allowed it to go on because He didn’t care. But we see throughout the Bible and in history that in the shadows of oppression, deliverance is produced. We see that there are individuals God uses to speak truth to power, so that no one can say, “We didn’t know.” God also appoints a time to judge what is wicked, and makes a way for the oppressed.

As we end Black History Month today, may we remember how much God was involved in this history. Never forget the victories that were won, nor the struggles that were endured, and appreciate where we are today because of the great men and women who went before us.

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