Bringing Tales of Slavery Above-Ground

Certain points in history are uncomfortable for us to talk, and even think, about. The Holocaust, 9/11; there’s too many to list. One part of the past that lasted decades, centuries, and, to this day, is still an issue in some ways, is that of slavery. Acts of extreme racism and violence were wrought upon African Americans for most of history, and this racial group still experiences too much of this hatred. Since slavery was abolished in 1865, much of the United States remained segregated until the mid-20th century; far too recently for us Americans to be comfortable with. There is a semi-sheer curtain drawn over the idea of slavery because of this discomfort. The details linger in history books and in memories of elder people. However, graphic tales of this time are not often seen in media and popular culture, and are rarely talked about in-depth in classrooms and out of them.

This has recently started to change.

The television network, WGN America, premiered a new series just a few days ago, on March 9th, called Underground. It is a period drama that depicts a group of African American slaves planning a great escape from a Georgia plantation via the Underground Railroad.

Few to no works exhibit real stories like that of the run-away slaves in the television show. Perhaps the show was produced to resurrect the terrors of this time period; to raise awareness and scare viewers enough so that nothing of this sort happens again. Maybe it was created simply to further verify the truth of what occurred hundreds of years ago. This was certainly the goal of Harriet Jacobs in publishing her novel, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, which detailed the real events of her enslaved life. She wanted to tell readers of her sufferings, to expose the cruelty that African American slaves suffered, and tell the truth of what happened to slaves. Underground also expresses these concepts, and gives modern America a history lesson worth remembering. In her essay, “African American,” in Keywords for Children’s Literature, Michelle Martin states that the genre of African American children’s literature has “…an intolerance of the unequal treatment of Black children and a confrontation with harsh historical realities in forms that children can understand” (Martin, 13). If the quote is altered to read “that all people can understand,” the idea behind exposing everyone, in the U.S. and around the world, to Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and Underground is a way of easily educating everyone on the dark moments of history; real stories of terrible happenings are spoon-fed to us so that we understand, and can utilize what we learn and take precautions to ensure that they do not happen again.

3 thoughts on “Bringing Tales of Slavery Above-Ground”

  1. I definitely agree that slavery even in this present day and age is largely covered up and not discussed. However, I think it is very neat and powerful that there is a show like this that brings this topic to conversation similar to Harriet Jacobs’ novel that we read in class. In the future, I think it will be interesting to see if slavery as a topic will be given more attention and become more openly discussed.

  2. I agree that this new television show seems very powerful and will help bring more attention to the uncomfortable topic of slavery. Producing a show like this could also bring some controversy, but over all it seems like it will be successful. I wonder about all of the research they conducted to write the script of the show and if they had to alter some things at all to make it appropriate for television. I also wonder how in depth they will go on the details of the physical and sexual abuse that slaves dealt with on a regular basis.

  3. I agree; the more we can educate children on (accurate) historical events and realities, the better. And yet, I think many schools, districts and teachers are hesitant or outright opposed to teaching an accurate history which describes atrocities perpetrated by the US on oppressed people. And even when schools do teach history, I wonder what ‘version’ students are really getting. For example, this news story (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/06/us/publisher-promises-revisions-after-textbook-refers-to-african-slaves-as-workers.html?_r=0) was recently circulating about a major textbook that described slaves as ‘workers’ who were part of a mass ‘immigration’ to the US. In particular, I feel that we are doing children a disservice when we teach them a white-washed or inaccurate history. I actually remember vividly that my 7th grade social studies teacher chose to use Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” to supplement our reading because she thought that the regular textbooks provided an incomplete or misleading version of US history. I can only hope that more teachers follow in her footsteps and try to teach a full, even if uncomfortable, picture of US history.

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