Q-and-A with Pamela Toler, author of Heroines of Mercy Street

I provided the "A" to a Q-and-A interview with Pamela Toler, historian and author of, among other works, Heroines of Mercy Street. She writes the blog History in the Margins: "A blog about history, writing, and writing about history."

Read the full interview here.

Here is an excerpt:

One of the things modern readers, and writers, find difficult to deal with is the complexity of abolitionists’ attitudes on race. Could you talk a little about Wilber’s position and how it changed through the course of her life?

In Rochester, Julia Wilbur supported abolitionism but, with the exception of Frederick Douglass and his family, had little direct contact with African Americans. When she first came south, she embodied an “I’m here to help” attitude, embracing the cause but not seeing freedpeople as individuals. I can’t say she totally shed those patronizing feelings, but they seemed more class-based than race-based. Her social circle grew to include a number of middle-class African American women, in itself rare for the times.

A few other examples as I thought about her attitudes on race, among many. When she and Harriet Jacobs, who was African American, first met with Alexandria’s military governor, both women spoke to him directly—rather than Wilbur as the white woman taking the lead. Second, when Wilbur visited upstate New York after 6 months in Alexandria, she commented on the few black people she encountered, something she probably never would have noticed before.

Again, check out her blog for this interview and other articles and interviews of interest.