My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Civil rights and equality have made a lot of headway against racism in the last century.
“Well, duh,” some might say.
“But there’s still so far to go!” others might protest.
I personally grew up without any particularly scarring incidents of racism. Sure, I got made fun of for my small eyes and flat face, but so did the white girl with the big nose and, personally, I think she took it a lot harder than I did.
It’s great that the social norm is no longer racism and that we’re seeing more diversity in media, arts, and culture. It no longer amazes me to see unbiased news reports about minorities or television shows featuring more ethnic characters.
What amazes me is when I find fair treatments of minorities from books written over fifty years ago, before the civil rights movement was in full swing.
Lois Lenski wrote and illustrated Indian Captive in 1941. The new cover makes it look all modern (and kinda creepy, actually), but the story is old.
It’s based on the true story of Mary “Molly” Jemison, who was captured and then adopted by Seneca Indians. Her family was killed in that very raid. Instead of fighting against her captors and hating them and escaping at the first opportunity (although she certainly did try), she learned to love them and appreciate their culture. After a while, she adopted the Seneca right back.
The real Mary Jemison lived with the Seneca for the rest of her life. She married twice, to Indian men both times. She finally gave an interview at the age of eighty to describe her capture and eventual assimilation into the Seneca tribe.
The book is a pretty faithful treatment of Seneca life. The Indians that adopted Molly were mostly kind, but there were certainly some exceptions. There were parts of their culture that Molly learned to love, but other parts with which she was unable to reconcile herself.
It’s a children’s book, so don’t expect to see any gory scalpings, and some might argue that the book is biased toward Native American culture. But considering when it was written, I’d say that it’s pretty remarkable that a book this kind to an Indian tribe that kidnapped a young white girl and killed her family was even published.
Is it the most compelling book ever? Probably not; it was a little plainly written, even for 1940s children’s lit. But it was interesting and educational and a darned entertaining read.
Mary Jemison would approve.