So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Iola Leroy or, Shadows Uplifted

Iola Leroy or, Shadows Uplifted by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper
Frances Watkins Harper was born free in 1825 in Baltimore and was 67 years old when Iola Leroy was published. Before the Civil War she was a public speaker and political activist in the Abolitionist Movement and helped escaping slaves along the Underground Railroad. After the war she travelled the South speaking out for temperance, and the rights of women and African Americans, and other social causes.
Iola Leroy or, Shadows Uplifted is one of the first novels published by an African-American woman. It tells the story of a wealthy Mississippi planter who frees and marries his mixed-race slave. They have two children, Iola and Harry, that are raised without knowledge of their mixed background and educated in the North. In spite of his sincerest efforts to secure their future, after his death greedy relatives thrust Iola and her mother into slavery.
The book deals with Iola's emancipation and the period after the war when she tries to find her mother and brother and reestablish their lives together. As Iola and her brother are light skinned and highly educated, the book also deals with issues of passing and miscegenation. The concept of a single-drop of African blood making a person non-White and subject to ill-treatment by Society is a major theme. Written less than a decade before the Wilmington Massacre of 1898, this was a time when African-American prospects were still promising but were being threatened by racism and separatist thinking.
This novel is a great window on the era prior to the extreme racial repressions of the 20th Century, when Black people had hoped that education, hard work, and social responsibility could bring them social justice in the nation. As such, it is a great source of information written by a leader in the social justice movement of the time.

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