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Elizabeth Hobbs Keckly
Reading these books is truly a gift. Stitch by Stitch introduces the world to Elizabeth Hobbs Keckly, and her story is truly remarkable. Born to enslaved parents, she started working for her enslavers by age four. She was trained to be a seamstress like her mother, but she saw a way to use it to free herself.
Despite being sold to multiple enslavers before she was even twenty years old, she honed her craft and became one of the most sought-after dressmakers of her time. She even sewed dresses for both Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of President Lincoln, and Varina Davis, wife of future president of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis.
She was so beloved by her clients in St Louis, Missouri, that they gave her enough advanced payments for work to purchase freedom for herself and her son. After purchasing back her freedom, she designed and created Mary Todd Lincoln’s dress for the 1861 Presidential Inauguration.
Determination is a Superpower
This woman was incredible. Born enslaved, she learned a skill that she was able to turn into her path to freedom. She developed her talents and used them to her advantage. She negotiated the price of freedom for herself and her son and worked hard to that goal. When she was advanced the money for her freedom, she maintained her word and worked to pay everyone back. No matter what happened to her, she persevered.
Enslavement is a Crime against Humanity
Also, as is the same with every book about enslaved people, an underlying theme that deserves attention is how dehumanizing enslavement was.
This book sparked so many good conversations, where do I even start?
This was the first book where I started to notice that authors were swapping the word “slave” for “enslaved,” and “owner” for “enslaver.” The boys and I talked about how words mean things. How “slave” is ascribing that to that person, while “enslaved” describes what has been inflicted on them. We talked about how switching these words honors the dignity of those people, who were enslaved by enslavers (not “slave owners,” which implies that they had a right to do so).
As native St. Louisans ourselves, we were all excited to see that our city was a home of Elizabeth Hobbs Keckly, and it was St Louis women who came together to give her the advance that allowed her to buy back her freedom. Woo!
Finally, this book gave solid examples of how inhumane the practice of human enslavement was, as there were examples given about witnessing children being sold from their parents and how Elizabeth had to work as a seamstress to support the family who enslaved her.
Both my sons (8 and 5) found Stitch By Stitch to be fascinating and engaging.