Jennie Carter was a free black woman who moved from New Orleans to Grass Valley around 1860.
Between 1867 to 1874 she wrote essays, from her Nevada City home, that were published in The Elevator, a San Francisco black newspaper.
When Carter first began writing for The Elevator, her intention was to publish material for young readers. “Children, you hear a great deal said about color by those around you, see attention given white persons by your friends that is wholly unmerited, while those of darker skin are treated with cool neglect. Such are wrong, and that you may avoid like mistakes I write this for you to read. Let your motto be, civility to all, servility to none. Those reminders of bondage we must get out of the way as soon as possible; and while we would treat all with respect, we should not talk about color, light and dark, black and white.”
It wasn’t long before her writing was composed for a general audience. Carter’s essays provide a detailed and lively peek into Nevada County life—after the Civil War—when black men were working to establish voting rights, (white) women’s suffrage was in its infancy, the Central Pacific Railroad was under construction, and resentment against Chinese immigrants was building.
Since Carter wrote under several pen names—Ann J. Trask and Semper Fidelis (Always Faithful)—her body of work was lost until 2007, when a historical researcher discovered their connection and put the pieces together.
“She was a skilled cultural critic and as such her observations about race and racism, discrimination, and a host of social issues have important ramifications for today,” comments Eric Gardner, editor of Jennie Carter, A Black Journalist of the Early West.
The Jennie Carter book should be on recommended reading lists for every nineteenth-century history class in Nevada County (California).
FDC Editor Notes:
I discovered this book in a reference on a Wiki page. Exciting! Connecting with Jennie’s words, I felt a sense of admiration and deep respect for this intelligent, spiritual woman who bravely spoke universal truths that would go unrecognized for at least a century or more.
As I read, my ears were tuned for the echos of Jennie’s voice. When she described drinking water out of Deer Creek, Carter’s inclusion in the Deer Creek Project went from vague imaginings to composing detailed plans for a script, actress, locations, and props.
Equally engaging are Gardner’s footnotes and commentary. It’s like a book within a book that includes a code-breaker for every reference and antiquated expression. The research, alone, requires its own focused read.
How fortunate we (as readers and history buffs) are to have this thoughtful and carefully composed work available in one volume!
“Oh, that we might awake to the importance of a thorough, universal education.” – Jennie Carter, 1867
To learn more about Jennie Carter, check out these posts;
Jennie Carter was an esteemed Nevada City essayist who wrote and published articles in a San Francisco newspaper between 1867-1874.
She was a free black woman born in 1830 (or 1831). *Free people of color first arrived on the North American continent in the French territories and with the Spanish and Portuguese. They were highly educated and successful in business.
To gain a deeper understanding of Jennie’s opinions and writing, it’s important to know where she was living before moving to Nevada County and to understand what might have triggered her relocation.
In Jennie’s lifetime, the following events occurred;
1846 Mexican American War
Westward Expansion – Manifest Destiny
1849 California Gold Rush
1850 Fugitive Slave Laws were passed to provide the return of escaped slaves (a danger for free blacks – they could be captured/kidnapped and entered into slavery)
Tensions mount between Northern and Southern states
1860 Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States
** Historians suggest this is when Jennie and her first husband, Reverand Correll, a Campbellite minister, relocated to Grass Valley, California from New Orleans, Louisiana. [Jennie married Dennis Carter in Nevada City after Reverand Correll’s death.]
January 1861 Louisiana votes to secede from the Union
March 1861 Louisiana vows allegiance to the Confederate States of America
April 12th, 1861 Civil War begins
January 1, 1863, President Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring “that all persons held as slaves within the rebel states “are, and henceforward shall be free”
April 1865 Civil War ends — one week later Abraham Lincoln is assassinated
December 1865 Congress ratifies the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery
1867 Congress passes the 14th Amendment granting citizenship and civil liberties to freed slaves
1869 Congress passes the 15th Amendment granting African American men the right to vote
1870 African American men in California gain voting rights when 2/3 of the states ratify the 15th Amendment
Social movements taking place;
Abolition (eliminating slavery), temperance (sobriety), and sufferage (voting rights for black men and white women)
Human rights and individual betterment
Prior to Jennie’s move, New Orleans hosted the largest population of free black people in the United States.
Mid-Nineteenth Century American Attitudes
History and Happenings in New Orleans in the early 1860s
A time of extraordinary hope and political progress followed by a terrorist backlash.
If you liked this post, learn more about Jennie Carter in these posts;
Project Gutenberg | downloadable public domain books in multiple formats
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (1868-1863) was a Harvard Educated American sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist, author, writer and editor. His goal was to put an end to white supremacy.