Susie King Taylor


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(1848–1912), nurse, educator, domestic, and autobiographer.

Susie Reed was born a slave on the Isle of Wight, off the coast of Georgia, in 1848. As a child, she was educated surreptitiously by white schoolchildren and slave neighbors. Once literate, she endorsed counterfeit passes for other slaves, early demonstrating both a defiance against bondage and injustice and a commitment to African American education. During the Civil War, she attained freedom when an uncle took her with his family to St. Catherine Island, South Carolina, then under Union army administration. At age fourteen, she taught island children by day and conducted night classes for numerous adults. Later in 1862, she joined a troop of African American soldiers, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel C. T. Trowbridge, and served them as nurse, laundress, teacher, and cook. After the war, she and her first husband, Sergeant Edward King, returned to Savannah, where King died, leaving her to rear their infant son alone. From 1865 to 1868, she operated a private school, then performed domestic work in both southern and northern states. At age thirty-one, she married Russell Taylor. During Reconstruction, she organized the Women's Relief Corps, gaining national recognition for African American war heroes-men and women alike. In 1902 she published her autobiography.

Reminiscences of My Life in Camp portrays Susie King Taylor as both altruistic and astute; in it, as a representative African American woman of the late nineteenth century, she analyzes race relations and gender roles of her day. By reconstructing her army life, she tacitly demonstrates women's equality with men: while performing such traditional women's duties as sewing, women in the army revealed themselves to be as perceptive, valiant, and hardy as men. More overtly, Taylor condemns the post-Reconstruction racism manifest in Jim Crow groups such as the ex-Confederate Daughters, and American-Cuban relations. Throughout her Reminiscences, Taylor emerges brave and benevolent.

Anthony Barthelemy, ed., Reminiscences of My Life in Camp: With the 33d United States Colored Troops Late 1st S.C. Volunteers, 1988.Joanne Braxton, Black Women Writing Autobiography: A Tradition Within a Tradition, 1990.

Joycelyn K. Moody

Subjects: Literature — United States History.

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