Wolf by the Ears by Ann Rinaldi.
Scholastic Inc: NY, 1991.

Wolf by the Ears is an emotional depiction of Harriet's (Sally Hemings' daughter) preparation to leave forever the home she loves at age 21, a home where she was pampered,loved and educated, though still Thomas Jefferson's slave. The book is a fictional journal of what might have been her thoughts. Not intending to leave, she is confronted by certain realities - that living at Monticello she would be a slave and not protected after Jefferson's death, that there is no guarantee of physical protection 24 hours a day for a "black" girl of marriageable years. Ultimately she decides she must leave and struggles with her decision and whether or not she is Jefferson's daughter, as he ignored the rumors, never confirming or denying them.

Because Harriet is only 1/8 black, she prepares to pass as white when she leaves Monticello, meaning she has to leave behind everything she has known. Thomas Jefferson's son-in-law, Thomas Mann Randolph, and Governor of Virginia convinces her to leave, devises a plan for her transformation, sets up the finishing of her education, and finds a safe place for her to live and start her life. Her mother, in truth, has been preparing for her departure since before she was born.

I remember in the 1990s hearing in the news about Sally Hemings and her family. Their was controversy about whether it was true or not, and there was a reunion of the Hemings family with the Jeffersons. I never looked into the historical issue, so I don't know how closely Rinaldi stuck to what is known or believed to be true. I don't know if there was a journal by Harriet or anyone else of that time period, or if the information was passed on as stories within the Hemings family. I do know that the idea has caused much speculation about Jefferson's intent regarding slavery. Those who didn't think of him as a great man to begin with wished to use it as proof. Those who revered Jefferson wanted to pretend it didn't happen or make excuses. From such a distance in time, I don't know that he needed the excuses. He had indicated himself that he felt owners were as much bound as the slaves. He knew men who had tried to make things right for their mixed children only to have them crushed by others in the world. It also does not change the fact that he tried to end slavery through legislation. I don't understand why Sally Hemings was kept as a slave, but we can't really know the situation. Maybe knowing the situation in the surrounding world he believed he was doing the best he could for them. Maybe he separated his personal life from his wishes for the country. He was apparently living in a dreamworld, but those pushing towards great change must start from a dream.

The story is captivating and thoroughly explores the situation of Harriet's being Jefferson's daughter and not knowing for sure. The author delved into things I never would have considered. There is no explanation of historical facts, but the reader is clearly meant to read further. How could you not want to know more?

related-slavery, African Americans, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, United States history-early 19th century, passing as white

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