Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Based on Charlotte L. Forten’s Journal, edited by Ray Allen Billington and published in 1953, Polly Longsworth’s biography I, Charlotte Forten, Black and Free is more than a retelling of Forten’s life, or of a portion of that life. It is also a history of free African Americans’ involvement—with help and support from white sympathizers—in the abolitionist movement. The book includes a description of how affluent free African Americans lived in Philadelphia and Salem. From narratives of fugitive slaves and from letters, diaries, and journals from the South (especially from Port Royal, South Carolina), Longsworth describes plantation life, landscape, and climate. She recalls the songs and dances of the Sea Islands and the stories told by the former slaves. Among the “Contemporary Materials” included in Longsworth’s bibliography are books on army life, from which she drew information on the training, camp life, and battles of the African-American regiments in the Civil War.

The biography, which is narrated by Forten as if it were her autobiographical memoir, begins when, at sixteen, she left Philadelphia for Salem, Massachusetts, to attend the integrated Higginson Grammar School. She reflects on how she became interested in the abolitionist movement. The reader learns of her grandfather, James Forten, who was in the revolutionary war and rose from poverty to become the wealthy owner of a sail-making business and who was an...

(The entire section is 442 words.)