Book of Harriet: The Disambiguation of Five North Carolinian Siblings 1840-1941

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Sartor, Margaret

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*Designated as an exemplary master's project for 2015-16*

This paper is a work of creative nonfiction that adopts the first-person narrative voice of Harriet Smith (c. 1819-1873) in order to recount the biographies of her five children, all of whom were born slaves belonging to the Smiths, a prominent Orange County, North Carolina family. The four youngest siblings were simultaneously Smith slaves and Smith progeny who continued to live and work on the same plantation post-Emancipation as did many enslaved children who were fathered by their American owners. However, the interrelationships between Harriet, her children, and the Smiths were atypical of the era and region. Harriet’s four daughters were reared in the main plantation home by their white aunt, the very mistress whom they—and Harriet—served. History marginalized all of them until Harriet’s great-granddaughter, the Reverend Dr. Pauli Murray, published her 1956 familial memoir Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family. Murray’s memoir chronicles the life of Harriet’s eldest daughter and the family into which she married with contextual mentions of Harriet, her other four children, and the people with whom they made families. Despite their collective historical significance in North Carolina’s Piedmont region, little scholarship exists regarding these individuals, their interrelated lives, and their remarkable life stories. Written to reflect Murray’s seminal example, this narrative spotlights Harriet and all five of her children, illuminates the many accomplishments of a disremembered family of color, and contextualizes their inimitable lives during a divisive yet transformative century.





Smith, Kim (2016). Book of Harriet: The Disambiguation of Five North Carolinian Siblings 1840-1941. Master's thesis, Duke University. Retrieved from

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