Friday, October 9, 2020
October 9, 2020: Recent Reads: Susie King Taylor’s Memoir
[Last October I had a lot of fun sharing and AmericanStudying some of my recent reads, and it brought out great responses and nominations for a crowd-sourced weekend post. So this year I wanted to do the same, and would love to hear what you’ve been reading for another weekend list!]
On one of my favorite primary source discoveries for my forthcoming book.
As I wrote in this update post on Of Thee I Sing: The Contested History of American Patriotism (due out in January 2021—watch this space for more info!), one of the best parts of researching and writing that book was uncovering and sharing some relatively unknown historical texts, figures, and moments (“unknown” is always a fraught concept when it comes to history, but at the very least these are histories that do not occupy prominent roles in our collective memories). I hope that every chapter features at least one or two of them, but perhaps my favorite is part of the Civil War chapter: Susie King Taylor’s memoir, Reminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33rd United States Colored Troops Late 1st South Carolina Volunteers (1902).
That Documenting the American South introduction to Taylor’s book by scholar Meredith Malburne details Taylor’s striking life, from a childhood in slavery to her escape during the Civil War (when she was just 14 years old), her wartime work as a nurse (still a teenager), and her extensive experiences of both the Reconstruction South, the post-Reconstruction North, and the arc of late 19th century American history. As Malburne notes, we know much of that history through Taylor’s own writing, which of course makes it somewhat more uncertain (or at least shaded by her personal perspective and biases, as any personal narrative is) but also reflects the vital historical and cultural role that such memoirs can play, the way they portray (as Thomas Wentworth Higginson puts it in his Introduction) “the plain record of simple lives, led in stormy periods.” That’s more than enough reason to read Taylor’s short and engaging book (available in full at that same site)—which I’ll leave you to go do!
Crowd-sourced post this weekend,
PS. So one more time: what do you think? Recent reads you’d share for the weekend post?