Among the pioneer African American writers of slave narratives is Gustavas Vassa, who narrates his experiences in the United States. His account, titled The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, Written by Himself (1789), contains a description of the terrible journey by sea. Although African Americans came from diverse regions of Africa, slaves were perceived as members of a single race, so their diversity of heritage was overlooked and their regional differences were ignored by slave owners, who defined them in terms of their functions.
From 1830 to 1865, with the exception of one poet, James H. Whitfield, all black authors wrote autobiographies or were subjects of biographical works. Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman (1869, revised as Harriet the Moses of Her People, 1886) is the biography of a runaway slave who became a conductor on the Underground Railroad; at great risk to her life, she assisted slaves in fleeing to the northern states and freedom.
The most famous African American in the antislavery movement was Frederick Douglass. He wrote three autobiographies during various phases of his life. He reports his early interest in learning how to read and write, his confrontation with his inhumane owners, and his ultimate freedom. Dedicated to a vision of transforming the oppressed state of his race, Douglass shared his story to inspire others.