One of Haskins’ intentions in his book is to recognize the active role of African Americans in the history of the United States. On a couple of occasions, he states directly that most historical accounts have been written from a white point of view, and he wants to remedy this situation. One could say that Haskins wants to rewrite American history from a black perspective, and the story of fugitive slaves is a logical point of departure for such an enterprise. For example, Haskins observes that the first person to die in the events leading up to the revolutionary war was Crispus Attucks, an escaped slave who was killed in 1770 in the Boston Massacre. Haskins relates this anecdote in order to compel the reader to think of the American Revolution as something other than a rebellion by white colonists of European descent. The revolutionary war was also the beginning of organized abolition movements. Haskins further forces the reader to question the generally accepted version of American history by calling to attention the racist attitudes of a famous white American who is usually considered to be the hero of the revolutionary war: He notes that George Washington complained in 1786 about the Quakers, who had helped one of his slaves escape to freedom.
Haskins mentions numerous forgotten books, many of them narratives written by escaped slaves who participated in the Underground Railroad. He cites so many such books that Get on Board becomes something of a history about the writing of the history of the Underground Railroad. Haskins...
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A paragraph entitled “About the Author” at the end of Get on Board observes that this is one of more than eighty books of nonfiction that Jim Haskins has written for juveniles and young adults. Among his other books are biographies of Martin Luther King, Jr., the civil rights leader of the 1950’s and 1960’s; Scott Joplin, the ragtime musician; and Rosa Parks, the woman who called attention to discrimination against African Americans by refusing to sit at the back of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955. Other books by Haskins are about African American music and dance. His career represents a concerted effort to introduce students to African American history and culture, thereby complementing the Eurocentric versions of American history.
In Get on Board, Haskins’ ultimate testament to the power of history and the written word is the discussion of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin in which he identifies the historical personages that Stowe fictionalized in her novel; for example, Josiah Henson is usually considered to be the inspiration for the character of Uncle Tom. Perhaps because of its historical verisimilitude, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was considered such a threat to slavery that possessing the book could be a criminal offense. Just as Stowe’s book condemning slavery was censored in the 1850’s, Haskins is suggesting that all African Americans continue to be censored to some degree because the white perspective still dominates American historical accounts. Get on Board is part of Haskins’ attempt to call attention to African American history and historians.