Get on Board Essay - Critical Context

James Haskins

Critical Context

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.