“Taylor crafts a book that should be read by all who have an interest in understanding the roots of slavery and oppression of women during the pre–Civil War era. It should also be read by those seeking to understand the depth of pain and depravity faced by women living under the tyranny of American slavery.”
Library Journal (starred review)
“In this brief book, Taylor sets the context, reviews the known actions, and applies a genuinely multidisciplinary set of tools to understand a mother maybe driven to madness. The author peels away layers of analysis of Garner as archfiend or feminist and abolitionist hero to discover what she calls an intensely personal act, even if one fraught with political consequences. Summing Up: Recommended.”
“Taylor’s book is a must-read for anyone interested in African American history, women’s history, midwestern history, or Black feminist theory.”
International Journal of Africana Studies
“Taylor vividly portrays the sufferings Garner and her family endured under slavery and in their attempt to escape from it, placing their experiences in the wider context of the antebellum Midwest.… Readers of [Toni Morrison’s Beloved] will … appreciate the ways that Taylor illuminates the gendered experience of enslavement.”
Margaret Garner was the runaway slave who, when confronted with capture just outside of Cincinnati, slit the throat of her toddler daughter rather than have her face a life in slavery. Her story has inspired Toni Morrison’s Beloved, a film based on the novel starring Oprah Winfrey, and an opera. Yet, her life has defied solid historical treatment. In Driven toward Madness, Nikki M. Taylor brilliantly captures her circumstances and her transformation from a murdering mother to an icon of tragedy and resistance.
Taylor, the first African American woman to write a history of Garner, grounds her approach in black feminist theory. She melds history with trauma studies to account for shortcomings in the written record. In so doing, she rejects distortions and fictionalized images; probes slavery’s legacies of sexual and physical violence and psychic trauma in new ways; and finally fleshes out a figure who had been rendered an apparition.
Nikki M. Taylor is a professor of African American history at Howard University. Her other books include Frontiers of Freedom: Cincinnati’s Black Community, 1802–1868 and America’s First Black Socialist: The Radical Life of Peter H. Clark.
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Nineteenth-century Cincinnati was northern in its geography, southern in its economy and politics, and western in its commercial aspirations. While those identities presented a crossroad of opportunity for native whites and immigrants, African Americans endured economic repression and a denial of civil rights, compounded by extreme and frequent mob violence. No other northern city rivaled Cincinnati's vicious mob spirit.
Gus Reed was a freed slave who traveled north as Sherman’s March was sweeping through Georgia in 1864. His journey ended in Springfield, Illinois, a city undergoing fundamental changes as its white citizens struggled to understand the political, legal, and cultural consequences of emancipation and black citizenship. Reed became known as a petty thief, appearing time and again in the records of the state’s courts and prisons.
Beginning in 1803, the Ohio legislature enacted what came to be known as the Black Laws. These laws instituted barriers against blacks entering the state and placed limits on black testimony against whites.
The literature on women enslaved around the world has grown rapidly in the last ten years, evidencing strong interest in the subject across a range of academic disciplines.