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Harriet Ann Jacobs (February 11, 1813 – March 7, 1897) was an African-American writer who escaped from slavery and was later freed who became an abolitionist speaker and reformer.

Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Harriet Tubman.

Every year during Black History Month, millions of students and adults alike learn about the respectable, well-known black leaders from America’s past. For many people, black history is often about celebrating the famous “respectable” men and women who have done extraordinary things in acceptable ways.

Sagashus Levingston wants to talk to you about those marginalized African-American women who worked so hard behind the scenes who have contributed so much – they’ve led rebellions and broke unjust laws, or they’ve just held it down in the middle of chaos like so many mothers do – but are seldom mentioned in Black History Month celebrations. Harriet Ann Jacobs, an African-American abolitionist speaker and reformer, is one of those women that Levingston will be talking about at her “Black History and Infamous Mothers” event that will kick off Black History Month on Feb. 1.

“We will be looking at a Harriet, but it’s not Harriet Tubman. It’s Harriet Jacobs,” Levingston tells Madison365. “She’s particularly important because she’s one of the first people talking about the cult of true womanhood and she said, ‘Ya know, slavery doesn’t create conditions for me to be able to protect my virtue.’ And that’s still so relevant today. Poverty doesn’t create the conditions for so many women to be able to protect their virtue.

“With the #metoo movement we see even wealthy woman not being able to protect themselves from advances, so what do you expect from a powerless, impoverished woman? That’s something that I really want to bring home,” Levingston adds. “It brings us right to current-day issues.”

Sagashus Levingston

Sagashus Levingston is an award-winning social entrepreneur and educator and author of the coffee table book “Infamous Mothers.” She says that she’s excited to host “Black History and Infamous Mothers” at Mystery to Me Books on Monroe St. on Madison’s near west side.

The inspiration for this particular event came after Levingston held a big event at A Room of One’s Own Bookstore in downtown Madison for the Wisconsin Book Festival and it was a huge success – standing-room only.

“Mystery to Me Books heard about the event and they said asked me to host an event there, since my book [Infamous Mothers] was there. While I was doing my dissertation, I had read all of these books about these women who were infamous mothers during slavery and I remembered that those women are really not talked about during black history month,” Levingston says. “That was interesting to me. I really wanted to bring their voices to the forefront on the first day of Black History Month.”

Levingston, the mother of six children she raised as a single mom while earning a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and doctorate, will read a little bit from Harriet Jacobs stories and other infamous mothers in black history and will read from her coffee table book “Infamous Mothers,” which features featuring 22 inspirational profiles of Madison-area mothers from the margins of society who overcame personal struggle.

The event will also include a chance for attendees to be involved in open dialog with Levingston.

“This is an event for everybody. My mission in 2018 is to create spaces that bridge gaps mainly amongst women,” Levingston says. “When I did the Women’s March, one lesson that really stood out to me – and something that really hurt me – was the division between women of color and white women who call themselves feminists who are fighting for women’s rights. In 2018, I will be intentionally creating spaces that bring us together to have frank conversations about women’s issues.”

That will include the Talk Back Conference Levingston will be hosting later on in February.


“The Talkback Conference was inspired by the Women’s March, the need to be able to have an intense conversation about the issues in the [Infamous Mother’s] Book,” Levingston says. “The issues are so heavy and I wanted to build community around having a discussion around it.

“Mainly, around my experience in training social workers, I’ve found that it’s imperative that we need to create a space where they can have conversations with mothers outside of crisis and where moms can be in a place of power versus a place of need. This will enable the social workers to have an entirely different experience with them,” she adds. “So, the Talkback is really a place where marginalized moms can provide personalized professional development for people who are at the center of our society.”

In the meantime, Levingston is looking forward to Feb 1st’s “Black History and Infamous Mothers,” a discussion that will connect past and present-day “Infamous Mothers” with social change, and will demonstrate why this matters.

“This will be a really great unifying event. It will give us some context,” Levingston says. “This thing that we are talking about today … we will understand how it has been going on for more than 200 years. It will give us some context and then bring it back to the present day. It should be interesting. It will be fun.”

“Black History and Infamous Mothers” will take place Thursday, Feb. 1, 7-8 p.m. at Mystery to Me Books, 1863 Monroe St.

Written by David Dahmer

David Dahmer

A. David Dahmer is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Madison365.

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