Amos Fortune, Free Man

by Elizabeth Yates

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Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 172

Amos Fortune, Free Man must be considered in the context of the time frame in which it was written. In 1950, prior to the Civil Rights movement, Yates wrote the biography of a slave who was a common man, an unknown entity. Yates received applause and acclaim for this groundbreaking book, and it was awarded the 1951 Newbery Award for its distinguished contribution to literature for children.

In the aftermath of the Civil Rights movement, the book was criticized for its paternalistic portrayal of Amos Fortune. This was a man who was taken in force and held in bondage, who toiled for others, and who had to pay to be free. Yet he is the “good Negro,” completely submissive to the life of a slave and to the system. Moreover, while freedom is the book’s theme, the segregation that was prevalent at the time that the book was published is not addressed. Many African-American readers may see this portrayal of Fortune as unrealistic and may find it difficult to empathize with the character.

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