Before Miss Jane Pittman agrees to give a tape-recorded account of her more than one hundred years of life—from before the end of slavery to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s—the editor, a history teacher, has to convince her to do so in order to better teach African American history from the perspective of a black woman who experienced it firsthand. Miss Jane’s story begins at the end of the American Civil War on a southern Louisiana plantation, when she is about ten or eleven. While bringing Yankee soldiers a drink, Miss Jane, then called Ticey, befriends a Yankee named Corporal Brown, who influences her to replace her slave name with that of Jane. Miss Jane decides to adopt the new name and the corporal’s surname. Miss Jane reveals her pride for the first time when she refuses to accept her old slave name ever again, although her mistress whips her until she bleeds.
After the war ends a year later, Miss Jane, determined and proud, decides she is leaving the plantation for Ohio, in search of Corporal Brown, although she does not know the way or what she will eat along the way. When the two dozen other former slaves Miss Jane leaves with begin their journey north, they decide to change their slave names, as Miss Jane did, to declare their independence. They are soon to find out, however, that although they are legally free, they are to be treated no better and perhaps even worse than they had been during slavery. Soon after they leave, they are brutally attacked by a group of patrollers and former Confederate soldiers, who use sticks to beat to death all of those in the group except Miss Jane and a young boy, Ned, who are undetected in the bushes.
The two children bravely continue on alone for what they think is Ohio. The determined children journey until they eventually find themselves back on a southern Louisiana plantation that is very much like the one they fled. On the plantation, Miss Jane works in the field, lives in the old slave quarters, and takes care of Ned as if he were her child. For a short time everything seems to go well: The children and some adults are educated. White hate groups terrorize and kill blacks across the state, but the Yankee who temporarily owns the plantation has the plantation guarded by black troops to protect his workers. Soon, however, the original Confederate owner gets his land back during the deals the North and South are making in an attempt to reunite the country. Life on the plantation returns much to the way it was back in the days of slavery. The black politicians, troops, and teacher are all forced to leave, and the children are educated only a couple of months out of...
(The entire section is 1084 words.)