Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1811-1896, has been called by some historians the most influential writer of the 19th century. Author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, Dred and hundreds of other works, she lead a ferocious fight against slavery for most of her life. Her anti-slavery books were enourmouosly popular at the time, making her the most successful American author to that date. Abraham Lincoln said she did more to end slavery than he did and Charles Dickens conceeded that she had more readers than he did.

She gets little 21st century credit as a pioneer of civil rights because of her strongly held belief that the institution of slavery was the real cuprit, not necessarily the slave holders. She firmly believed that many southerners were basically good, just tained by the institution of slavery. Today, this shows in the way she is unjustly discredited by the modern opinion of her character, Uncle Tom. Modern perception is that Ungcle Tom was relaxed to slavery, had given up or even liked it. "Uncle Tom" has even become derogatory slang. This perception is entirely false, to the point where one wonders if people who have the perception have ever read the book. Reading the book, it's easy to see that Uncle Tom was one of the premier heroes of western literature. He was resigned to slavery because he couldn't do anything about it and because his enormous faith in God told him that a better world awaited. His personal character remained impeccable in the face of unbelievable hardship and despair, and his faith in God and goodness never left him, even to his death at the hands of white masters. He was kind and gentle and everything you would want in a model human being.

Stowe spent most of her life as the wife (and daughter) of a fundamentalist preacher and it was in fact her deep religious faith that started her on her anti-slavery crusade. Though deeply in love with her husband, she must have felt irked at the fact that he remained the undisputed head of the household and handled all her business dealings even though she earned a hundred times as much money as he did and had more than a hundred times the fame. She was uncomfortable with the second-class lives relegated to women at the time and many have suggested that this made her feel a certain kinship to the black slaves she worked to free.

IMHO, the civil rights community today does an enormous injustice to the memory of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Without her, slavery might have persisted for decades longer than it did.

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