Black Girls, White Girls, American Girls: Slavery and Racialized Perspectives in Abolitionist and Neoabolitionist Children’s Literature

Brigitte FielderUniversity of Wisconsin, Madison
Vol. 36, No. 2 (Fall 2017), 323-352

Analyzing abolitionist and neoabolitionist girlhood stories of racial pairing from the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries, this essay shows how children’s literature about interracial friendship represents differently racialized experiences of and responses to slavery. The article presents fiction by women writers such as Harriet Beecher Stowe and Lydia Maria Child alongside Sarah Masters Buckey and Denise Lewis Patrick’s American Girl historical fiction series about Cécile and Marie-Grace in order to show how such literature stages free children’s relationships to slavery through their own racialization. While nineteenth-century abolitionist children’s literature models how to present slavery and racism to free, white children, the American Girl series extends this model to consider how African American children’s literature considers black child readers and black children’s specialized knowledge about racism. The model of narration and scripting of reading practices in the Cécile and Marie-Grace stories promote cross-racial identification, showing how, because children read from already racialized perspectives that literature also informs, both black and white children might benefit from seeing alternating perspectives of slavery represented. By further re-thinking the boundaries of who might identify with other enslaved or enslavable child characters, we might unveil more radical antiracist potential in this children’s literature.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]