Biddy Mason Speaks Up

Book — Non-fiction. By Arisa White and Laura Atkins. 2019. 112 pages.
An illustrated children’s book tells the story of real-life champion for civil rights Bridget “Biddy” Mason.

Time Periods: Civil War Era: 1850 - 1864, Reconstruction Period: 1865 - 1876
Themes: African American, Slavery and Resistance, Women's History

Biddy Mason Speaks Up tells the story of Bridget “Biddy” Mason, a woman who was enslaved at birth but became a landowner, philanthropist, healer, midwife, and voice for justice in 19th century California.

When Biddy first arrived in California, where slavery was technically illegal, she was kept captive by her owners and forced to work without pay. But when Biddy learned that she was going to be taken to a slave state, she launched a plan to win her freedom. She refused to be defined by her enslavement, and coauthors Arisa White and Laura Atkins devote much of their narrative to Biddy Mason’s later life as a business and civic leader in the fledgling city of Los Angeles.

Biddy Mason Speaks Up is an age-appropriate, yet unflinching, examination of slavery, racism, and community healing in the United States.

Each chapter begins with lyrical verse and full-color illustrations that draw readers into the narrative, and is followed by visually engaging sections filled with keyword definitions, historical context, timelines, and primary sources. Throughout the book, the authors pose questions to the reader, such as “How do you see power at work in your community?”, making Biddy Mason’s story all the more relatable to the present day. [Description from the publisher.]

Sarah Jo Zaharako praised the book for telling the history of people typically ignored by textbooks in her review at Reading While White:

The focus on Biddy Mason as the protagonist further sets the book apart from the myriad historical texts for middle-grade readers. Publishers have traditionally delegated the portrayal of slavery in America to a relatively small cast of historical figures like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. In doing so, slavery’s repercussions are given limited scope in the literary world. Mason’s story suggests that she is but one of millions whose experience has been omitted, if not erased, from the American narrative. I found myself asking the question, “Why have I not heard this story?” and contemplating how many more stories I have been denied by a traditional American education.

ISBN: 9781597144032 | Published by Heyday.

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