Friday, August 20, 2010

A Black Woman's Civil War

The life of Susie King Taylor displayed not just one but many moments of determined heroism. Hers was a heroism anchored in the struggles of everyday life but also fearless in demanding that the country live up to its promises to blacks as they journeyed from slavery to freedom.

Susie King Taylor (1848-1912)was born into bondage on a Georgia plantation during the high tide of southern slavery. Although she had humble origins as a slave, she was sent to a clandestine school run by a free black woman. She had to wrap her books in laundry or newspapers to disguise the fact that she was going to school, because it was against the law to teach slaves to read. During the civil war, she escaped and became a nurse to the black soldiers of the northern army. When Clara Barton arrived, the two worked side by side caring for the wounded. The black former slave girl and the Yankee spinster showed the way that diverse backgrounds could be commingled into one strong unified force. After the war, Susie experienced the full force of prejudice and hatred but remained optimistic and dreamed of the day when justice for African Americans would arrive in the South. She wrote a memoir - "Reminiscences of My Life in Camp, with the 33rd United States Colored Troops Late 1st South Carolina Volunteers". Her testimonial contains poetic and powerful prose.

The choices facing Susie King Taylor may have been limited by the contraints of race and gender, but the heroism she demonstrated during wartime should inspsire us all.

(taken from "Forgotten Heroes" by Catherine Clinton)

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