Words and books are a powerful way to change the world.
Our (grown-up) girl here of the week is Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896). She wrote a book called Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1852 which changed the way people saw slavery. It was called ‘perhaps the most influential novel ever published, a verbal earthquake, an ink-and-paper tidal wave.’
At the time there was slavery in America. People from Africa were kidnapped and sold as slaves to work, for no money and under terrible conditions, in the cotton and tobacco fields of America. In the 200 years from 1619, over 600,000 slaves were traded. By 1840, the northern states of America had abolished slavery, realising it was inhumane and wrong but it still continued in the southern states.
Harriet was a Christian, the daughter of a minister, and felt she had to do something to help. She supported the Secret Underground, a network of people which helped slaves escape to freedom in the Northern states, but she wanted to do more. And so she wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin told the story of a slave called Tom and the unspeakable cruelty and hardship he was subjected to as a slave. Her story showed how slaves were, unthinkably, treated as property not people and it touched people, making them think about slavery in a whole new way. It sold millions of copies and affected people so much that there were widespread protests, calling for slavery to be abolished.
‘Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.’
And the tide did turn. At the end of the American Civil War slavery was finally ended in America. When Harriet met Abraham Lincoln the US President after the war said, ‘So you’re the little woman who started this Great War
I’m not sure I like the ‘little woman’ part but the point the President was making was that Harriet’s book created so much awareness of and anger about slavery that it contributed greatly to the American Civil War which ultimately saw slavery abolished.
Now that’s the power of words. What might your words help change?