Behind the Scenes: Formerly a Slave, but More Recently Modiste, and Friend to Mrs. Lincoln; Or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White Houseby Elizabeth Keckley
Born into slavery, Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley (ca. 1824-1907) rose to a position of respect as a talented dressmaker and designer to the political elite of Washington, D.C., and a confidante of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln. In this unusual memoir, Keckley offers a rare, behind-the-scenes view of the formal and informal networks that African Americans established among themselves, as well as an insider's perspective of the men who made Civil War politics and the women who influenced them.
Keckley's descriptions of the Lincolns at home reveal touching, unguarded moments of laughter, discussion, and affection. She witnessed the grief of both parents at the death of their son Willie and Mary Todd's prostration after the president's assassination. In dire financial straits, Mary Todd turned to Keckley, who spent several months in New York helping the former First Lady sell her elegant clothing.
President of the Contraband Relief Association and a friend of Frederick Douglass and other prominent African-American leaders, Keckley emerges as a remarkable, resourceful, and principled woman who helped mediate between black and white communities. Frances Smith Foster's introduction traces the book's reception history and fills in biographical gaps in the text.
- University of Illinois Press
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- 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.90(d)
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Behind the Scenes is an anomaly African American women's writing of the 19th century. It's not a slave narrative (although it starts out like one!), nor is it domestic fiction like the novels written by Pauline Hopkins and Frances E.W. Harper in the 1890s. Perhaps most accurately described as a memoir, Keckley tells of her career and life in relation to the famous first couple, Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln. The complex situation of the book's emergence is too much to go into here, but Keckley's work describes a unique personal story--told at times through an incredibly impersonal narrator whose focus is interestingly more on her social climb than her children--situated right at the heart of American history. No other era has created such a genre-crossing piece, but it's a delightful exception. Behind the Scenes proves that even at the time of Civil War, there's always more to things than meets the eye, whether we're talking about race, gender, or class.