Into the Mouths of Babes: An Anthology of Children's Abolitionist Literature

By Deborah C. De Rosa | Go to book overview

HARRIET NEWELL GREENE BUTTS
(PSEUDONYM: LIDA, 1819–1881)

Harriet Newell Greene Butts (Lida) authored a variety of children’s books: Thwing Family Thanksgiving: at The House of Almon Thwing (1854), Little Harry’s Wish, or, “Playing Soldier” (1868), Plouf, Canard Sauvage (1935), and Chancun Son Nid: Jue du Père Castor (1936). However, Ralph: or, I Wish He Wasn’t Black (1855), part of a series entitled Lida’s Tales of Rural Home, addresses the issue of American slavery.

In Ralph: or, 1 Wish He Wasn’t Black,1 Harriet Butts offers a unique perspective on slavery when compared to other domestic abolitionists in this anthology. Two mother figures, the white Mrs. Medford and the African American Mrs. Willard, employ seemingly nonsubversive religious rhetoric to document and counteract a hypocritical community’s racism. When Ralph Medford almost succumbs to the sneers from peers who call him a “little abolitionist” for befriending Mrs. Willard and her son (Tommy), Mrs. Medford calmly and lovingly reinforces Biblical principles that counteract racial prejudice. Similarly, when Tommy tells his mother that he dislikes his dark skin and cannot understand why he cannot live with his father, Mrs. Willard does not denounce the racist white boys or the Fugitive Slave Law; instead, she reminds Tommy of God’s color-blind love and His promise of a family reunion in Heaven. In contrast to the openly critical abolitionist mother-historians in Chandler’s “What is a Slave, Mother?” Follen’s “Dialogue,” S.C.C.’s Louisa in Her New Home, Matilda Thompson’s “Aunt Judy’s Story: A Story from Real Life,” and Jones’s The Young Abolitionists, Mrs. Medford and Mrs. Willard appear rather nonthreatening. However, Butts could not resist making her mother figure betray a glimmer of defiance, evident when Mrs. Medford defends nonconformity and critiques, in a seemingly tangential remark, the religious hypocrites who uphold the Fugitive Slave Law. In a

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