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The Rise of Multicultural AmericaEconomy and Print Culture, 1865-1915$
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Susan L. Mizruchi

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780807832509

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: September 2014

DOI: 10.5149/9780807887967_mizruchi

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Racism as Opportunity in The Reconstruction Era

Racism as Opportunity in The Reconstruction Era

(p.44) 2 Racism as Opportunity in The Reconstruction Era
The Rise of Multicultural America

Susan L. Mizruchi

University of North Carolina Press

This chapter focuses on the autobiography published by Harriet Jacobs during the beginning of the Civil War. The book recounted Jacobs' unusual experience of slavery; in particular, her ability, as a literate, light-skinned slave with free relatives in town, to resist the sexual advances of her master, Dr. James Norcom, and to seek protection from a local white lawyer before escaping. Jacobs' narrative provides a valuable introduction to race relations in the Reconstruction era, offering an acute sociological portrait of the American slavery system and its long-term effects on whites and blacks, North and South. Namelessness, invisibility, and constant degradation were means of conferring upon slaves a condition of “social death.” The master–slave bond, as Jacobs describes it, is parasitical as well as perversely intimate: the slave institutionalized as marginal is essential to the social structure that denies her humanity.

Keywords:   Harriet Jacobs, Civil War, race relations, Reconstruction era, American slavery system, social death

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