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Reading with My Heart

Sister Donna Butler holding the book, “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,” written by Harriet Jacobs.

Sister Donna Butler holding the book, “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,” written by Harriet Jacobs.

“Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” is the most profound book I have read about slavery and its long-term impact.

We think there is unbelievable violence today and there is. At the same time, I think I/we grossly underestimate the intensity of the day-to-day grinding and brutally oppressive impact of slavery on every single aspect of human life.

Written under a pseudonym at the time, the author, Harriet Jacobs has been verified. This historical account was published in 1861 with the help of an abolitionist, Maria Child. It is rare to find a book written by an African-American woman who was a slave.

Born in 1813 in North Carolina, she describes the daily struggles of slavery’s abuse to her, her family and the black community. She describes the slave who was suspended with a fire above his head with a slab of pork and the hot grease running down, burning his body.

Despite a very oppressive master, she speaks the truth again and again, refusing to let his degrading view of her define her. What drives her actions most of all is her determination to free her children. Even though it was believed she had escaped, Harriet hides in a cramped, inhumane crawl space for seven years, waiting for a second opportunity to escape to freedom and to be reunited with her children.

Harriet wrote this book most of all to share the suffering of her community. It helps me understand better the long-term devastating impact both within the black community itself and the ongoing struggle in this country to overcome the racism so rooted in our bones.

Have you read a book that touched you so profoundly?

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Sister Donna Butler

Sister Donna Butler has been a Sister of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods for more than 60 years. Sister Donna has served in elementary education, parish ministry, diocesan social justice, as well as the Congregation’s liturgy office, archives department and social justice outreach. She also administered as the director of the Providence Volunteer Ministry. Sister Donna currently volunteers in outreach with Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College students.

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