In 1880, Joel Chandler Harris, the author of the "Uncle Remus" stories, described Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel Uncle Tom's Cabin as a "wonderful defense of slavery." At first glance, this statement seems to be a gross misreading, or perhaps an act of wishful thinking from a man who would soon become one of slavery's most influential apologists. But the truth is more complicated. In fact, Harris did not simplistically misunderstand Stowe, nor did he merely impose or project his own proslavery politics onto her abolitionist novel. Rather, Harris read Stowe with a warped genius for selectivity, and he crystallized his selective reading in the fictional relationship between Uncle Remus and the Little Boy. In these books, Joel Chandler Harris told the story of what could have happened if Uncle Tom had never left Kentucky.
In honor of the bicentennial of Stowe's birth and the 160th anniversary of the publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin, the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center is re-serializing Stowe's novel in the same weekly installments that originally appeared in the National Era from 1851-1852. The Stowe Center is simultaneously running a blog with commentary linked to the weekly installments. I'm honored that the Stowe Center invited me to be one of the bloggers. My essay about Harris and Stowe, which is excerpted and adapted from Racial Innocence, runs this week. Hope you enjoy it!