Lost in Time: 5 Black Authors The World Missed Out On

You may not know their names but you will now! Let’s travel back in time to spotlight five Black Authors of the Reconstruction Era!

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Many of you are probably familiar with historical Black Authors such as Frederick Douglas, Booker T. Washington, and W.E.B. DuBois, but there are many others! Post-Civil War Black Authors made history with publicized depictions of slavery, racism, oppression, and resilience toward freedom. These writers come from different backgrounds, unified by their everlasting mark in the literary field.

Harriet Jacobs

Harriet Jacobs was born into slavery in 1813 in North Carolina. She learned how to read and write as a child—which was highly uncommon amongst slaves, as it was illegal. She later escaped to New York where her employer purchased her freedom and set into motion the start of an autobiography. Jacob utilized her popularity as an author to support abolitionist, feminist, and social welfare causes. And served as an Executive Member of the Women’s Loyalty National League and the Co-founder of The Jacobs school for refugee and freed slaves.

Harriet Jacobs posing in a chair for a photo.

Incidents in The Life of a Slave Girl

Incidents in The Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs - Book Cover

Harriet published her only novel, Incidents in The Life of A Slave Girl (1861) under the pen name Linda Brent. The autobiography examines the traumas and anxieties in Jacob’s life as an enslavement woman. As a slave, she experienced sexual harassment and threats of family separation by her slaveowner—forcing Jacob to hide in concealment for seven years before escaping to New York. Her novel is a moving display of the struggles and strength of Black women in their efforts toward freedom.

William Wells Brown

William Wells Brown was born in 1814 in Kentucky. And like many others, Brown was Biracial and therefore deemed a slave. He worked most of his childhood on steamships and as an adult, escaped to the free state of Ohio. There, he learned how to read and write, and became an abolitionist writer and teacher. He published his first memoir, Narrative of William W. Brown, a Fugitive Slave: Written By Himself in 1847, and his first novel Clotel; or, The President’s Daughter in 1853. Which is considered the first novel by a Black Author in the United Kingdom!

He spent the rest of his career writing books and plays and teaching throughout his time in The United States and Europe.

A portrait drawing of William Wells Brown.

The Black Man: His Antecedents, His Genius, and His Achievements

The Black Man by William Wells Brown - Book Cover.

The novel The Black Man: His Antecedents, His Genius, And His Achievements (1863) is a blend of Brown’s life and the stories and achievements of impactful people of African descent. This work shows how historical Black figures transformed hardships and cruelty into a power source to make a difference in the world. And it is a published example of supporting Black voices and accomplishments.

Harriet E. Wilson

A portrait photo of Harriet E. Wilson.

Harriet E. Wilson was born a free Biracial woman in New Hampshire in 1825. Wilson wrote one novel, and although the book was widely known until later rediscovery, she is considered the first Black Novelist in North America! She was orphaned young and lived her adolescence as an indentured servant. After publication, she became an active member of the spiritual community and lecturer about her life experiences and children’s education.

Our Nig, or Sketches from the Life of a Free Black

Our Nig, or Sketches from the Life of a Free Black by Harriet E. Wilson- Book Cover.

The novel Our Nig, or Sketches from the Life of a Free Black (1859), parallels Wilson’s life as a “free” Black woman during her time as a servant. I have the word free in quotations because that’s exactly what Wilson challenges. Her story raises the curtain behind freedom and offers a close-up view of the racism, oppression, and abuse endured by the so-called free Black person. Although this book sets apart from the traditional Slave Narrative genre, it offers readers a different experience from a free Black woman in the North.

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

Frances Harper standing for a photo.

Frances Harper was born in 1825 to free Black parents in Maryland. As a child, Harper worked for a family that owned a bookstore, where she became a vigorous reader and poet! Forest Leaves was her first poetry collection, and in 1859 she became the first Black woman to write and publish a short story, “The Two Offers”. Harper continued a career in writing, teaching, and heavy activism for equal rights. She also co-founded and served as the Vice President of the National Association of Colored Women’s Club and the Director of the American Association of Colored Youth.

Sketches of Southern Life

Sketches of Southern Life by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper- Book Cover

The poems in Sketches of Southern Life (1872) reflect common experiences amongst enslaved peoples and Harper’s travels through the Southern U.S. during the Reconstruction Era. In addition, Harper’s use of prose takes readers on a journey through the harsh realities of the enslaved and the concerns for freed individuals in the South.

Pauline Hopkins

A portrait phot of Pauline Hopkins.

Pauline Hopkins was born in 1859 in Maine and was the daughter of free Black parents. Education was highly valued in the household and ignited Hopkins’ passion for literature. In school, Hopkins participated in writing and noted prominent Black writers as inspiration. Then in 1880, she wrote her first play Slaves’ Escape; or, The Underground Railroad. She was the writer and editor of numerous pieces for The Colored American Magazine and New Era Magazine. Hopkins continued her career writing novels, plays, articles, and short stories. Her short story “Talma Gordon” is considered the first Black mystery!

Contending Forces: A Romance Illustrative of Negro Life North and South

Contending Forces: A Romance Illustrative of Negro Life North and South by Pauliine Hopkins- Book Cover.

Hopkins kickstarts the 20th century with her first novel Contending Forces: A Romance Illustrative of Negro Life North and South (1900) — in this novel, Hopkins ties in her own families history to address topics of enslavement, gender, race, and how Black individuals function in a Post-Civil War nation. This story is another demonstration of how great sufferings transform into a source of strength and power.

Wow, to live through such an extreme turning point in American history, and come out on the other end as a prominent historical figure and inspiration to future generations, is the ultimate triumph. Black Authors of the Reconstruction Era were not just Authors. They were teachers, activists, public speakers, and voices for those who never had the chance to tell their stories. And these writers made sure their voices were forever preserved in the literary field, echoing throughout the pages of history.

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