Christopher T. Cory, Public Information, Pace, 212-346-1117
Frank Lentini, M. Booth and Associates, 212-481-7000
PACE UNIVERSITY PLANS HARRIET JACOBS CONFERENCE
Recasting Her Role as a Major Contributor to American
Literature and Black Activism
One of Four National Conferences in Six Weeks to Mark Pace Centennial
NEW YORK, NY, June 7, 2006 — In a major effort to revise her place in American history and literature, Pace University will host a conference on Harriet Jacobs, the first American slave woman to write an autobiography, on its downtown New York City campus October 6-7.
“This conference will emphasize Jacobs’s role as a major contributor to the black literary tradition, which she helped establish with her narrative,” said David A. Caputo, president of Pace. “Literary discoveries made at Pace have dispelled myths about her work, proving that she authored the most important antebellum autobiography by an African American woman, and in doing gave an irreplaceable picture of American culture.”
Drawing eminent historians and literary scholars from across the country, “The Legacies of Slavery and Sisterhood: The Life and Work of Harriet Jacobs” will include six panel discussions and a roundtable on the current implications of her writing and life. Actress Ruby Dee will give a reading from Jacobs’s harrowing account of her escape from slavery in 1842. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Written by Herself, first published pseudonymously in 1861. Jacobs hid herself in a three-foot-high crawl space above a storeroom, living there for seven years before fleeing the South.
For more information on the conference, which is open to the public but requires advance registration, visit www.pace.edu/dyson/HarrietJacobsConf
Authenticity Verified. Incidents was rescued from obscurity by a Pace professor, Jean Fagan Yellin, whose work solved the mystery of who actually wrote the book and what it is. For more than 125 years, Incidents was assumed to be a novel written by a white author. But Yellin discovered and published correspondence from Jacobs, proving Incidents was indeed “written by herself,” as its subtitle announces, and not by Lydia Maria Child, a white abolitionist writer whose authorship commentators had long assumed. In 1987, Professor Yellin published a classic edition of Incidents with Harvard University Press.
After fleeing the South, Jacobs became an abolitionist activist in the North. During the Civil War, she worked behind the Union lines, in Virginia establishing a school among the refugees from slavery. After Emancipation, she actively sought to reform conditions among the freed people, traveling to England to raise funds for black Savannah.
In 2004, Yellin published the widely acclaimed Harriet Jacobs: A Life. The biography won the prestigious Frederick Douglass Book Prize awarded by Yale University’s Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, the first biography ever to do so, and also won the William Sanders Scarborough Prize of the Modern Language Association.
To this day, Jacobs is the only African American woman held in slavery whose papers are known to exist. To edit a two-volume collection of the papers, scheduled for publication by the University of North Carolina Press in 2007, Yellin has received grants from funders including the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Archives, the Ford Foundation and the Delmas Foundation. The Harriet Jacobs Papers consist of approximately 400 items, including writings by Jacobs, her brother John S. Jacobs, and her daughter Louisa Matilda Jacobs.
Jacobs’s spirit was as indomitable as her life was remarkable. She lived as a slave, a fugitive targeted for kidnapping, a writer, a reformer, a lecturer and an activist. She worked closely with abolitionists and early feminists, provided emergency relief, founded her free school for blacks in Alexandria, Virginia, and raised funds for the black community. Her reform and philanthropic efforts were acknowledged when she was named to the executive committee of the Women’s Loyal National League, headed by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, in 1864.
Scholars Celebrate Her Remarkable Life. The conference list of panel participants is a veritable who’s who of literary scholars and historians, including some of the nation’s foremost authorities on slavery and authors whose works have formed the basis of the recent public television series “Slavery and the Making of America.” “The Legacies of Slavery and Sisterhood: The Life and Work of Harriet Jacobs” will take place in Pace’s Michael Schimmel Theatre, starting at 9 a.m., October 6, with an opening keynote address by Professor Yellin. The actress Ruby Dee will conclude the conference with a reading from Harriet Jacobs’s writings.
Among Harriet Jacobs conference participants are:
• Nina Baym of the University of Illinois at Urbana and general editor of The Norton Anthology of American Literature.
• Ira Berlin of the University of Maryland and co-author of books including Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in Mainland North America (1999) and co-editor of Slavery in New York, a companion book to the exhibition at the New-York Historical Society.
• Frances Smith Foster of Emory University and co-editor of The Norton Anthology of African American Literature and The Oxford Companion to African American Literature.
• James Oliver Horton of George Washington University, Director of the Afro-American Communities Project of the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution, author of nine books including the companion book for the WNET PBS series “Slavery and the Making of America,” which aired in 2005.
• Nell Painter of Princeton University (retired), president-designate of the Southern Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians and author of Creating Black Americans.
• Arnold Rampersad of Stanford University, who has written acclaimed biographies of W.E.B. DuBois, Langston Hughes and Jackie Robinson and a memoir with Arthur Ashe.
This conference is one of four nationally significant conferences taking place at Pace within six weeks this fall. “Aftershock: Rethinking the Future Since September 11, 2001” takes place September 6-8 with keynotes by Lee Hamilton, vice chair of the federal Centennial Commission, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and White House policy advisor David Gergen. The October 6-7 “slavery and sisterhood” conference is followed October 16-20 at the Pace Law School by a global gathering of lawyers and environmentalists analyzing recent progress and problems in enforcing environmental laws. A Founders Day symposium on the future of higher education in a global society is November 29.
“Slavery and Sisterhood” is part of a Pace Centennial lecture and performance series called “100 Conversations.” The Centennial also included a speech, in March, by former President Bill Clinton, and is proceeding with a yearlong volunteer initiative called “100 Opportunities for Service and Civic Engagement” and “Roll Back the Clock Day,” during which the Pace cafeterias will offer representative 1906 food items at 1906 prices.
About Pace University Celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2006, Pace is a private university in the New York metropolitan area with a growing national reputation for offering students opportunity, teaching and learning based on research, civic involvement, international perspectives and measurable outcomes. It is one of the 10 founders of Project Pericles, developing education that encourages lifelong participation in democratic processes. Pace has campuses including downtown and midtown New York City, Pleasantville, Briarcliff, White Plains (a graduate center and law school), and a Hudson Valley Center at Stewart International Airport near Newburgh, N.Y. The University enrolls over 14,000 students enrolled in undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs in the Dyson College of Arts and Sciences, Lienhard School of Nursing, Lubin School of Business, Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems, School of Education, and Pace Law School. For more information, visit the Pace University Website, pace.edu.