Civil War 150th Anniversary Lecture Series

Speaker: Dr. Sherita L. Johnson
Date: September 9, 2013
Title: “‘Is This Freedom?’: Harriet Jacobs and Black Contraband in Washington, D.C. during the Civil War"
Place: Cook Library Art Gallery 
Time: 6pm (Refreshments will be served)

Only a short time after her own escape from slavery, we find Harriet Jacobs in Alexandria, Virginia as a relief worker living among black “contrabands” in the summer of 1862. Jacobs would also serve as war correspondent as she reported on the conditions of freedmen and runways occupying Washington, D.C. and surrounding areas during the Civil War. Her ability to write her own liberation narrative, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861), and to dictate that of others is a remarkable feat for a fugitive black female slave. Noteworthy is also Jacob’s effort to transform the black contraband into U.S. citizens. In her lecture, Dr. Johnson will trace Harriet Jacobs’ experiences as a fugitive slave and free woman by presenting a literary and historic tour of Alexandria. As we celebrate the sesquicentennial anniversary of the Civil War, it behooves us to return to historic sites of agony and agency, as did Harriet Jacobs.



Sherita L. Johnson is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Southern Mississippi, where she specializes in nineteenth-century African American literature, women writers, Jim Crow literature, and cultural studies. She is the author of Black Women in New South Literature and Culture (Routledge, 2010), which examines the role of black women, historical and fictional, in the making of "New South" literature and culture of the late nineteenth/early twentieth centuries. Johnson served as guest editor of The Southern Quarterly special issue, “ ‘My Southern Home’: The Lives and Literature of 19th-Century Southern Black Writers" (Spring 2008). Since 2011, she has been the Director of the Center for Black Studies at USM.


*This lecture series is sponsored by The University Libraries at USM with a grant from The National Endowment for the Humanities, The Library of America, and The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.


For more information about this talk or the lecture series, contact Jennifer Brannock at or 601.266.4347.