1951: Amos Fortune: Free Man (Slavery wasn’t bad, nope)

VERDICT: Trash!

Laurinda’s Rating: 1.5

The 1951 Newbery Medal Winner, Amos Fortune: Free Man, is the story of a boy abducted from Africa shortly after the death of his father makes him chieftain/king of his tribe. A Quaker purchases him out of kindness, for he fears the boy’s spirit will result in harsh treatment. The family treats him kindly, teaching him to read and to weave. They offer to free him, but his is content to stay. Unfortunately, his owner leaves no provision for Amos’ freedom in his will, so Amos is sold to help to pay the debts after his owner croaks. Amos works for a tanner and eventually buys his freedom. He opens his own tannery, using most of the profits to buy women he’s either attracted to or pities, since he failed in his quest to find his sister (who may well have remained in Africa). The women are his “wife” for the year or so they each have until they die (excepting Violet, who outlives him). Amos moves to a small town and works hard to become a valued member of the community. Although some bastions of separation remain, such as never being permitted to buy a pew in church, Amos gains the respect of most of the town. On his death, he gives large sums to the school and the church.

This is a mash-up of the worst features of Invincible Louisa and Daniel Boone. The narration is a recitation of facts like Louisa, tinged with the contempt for the “Other” that Daniel Boone showed. Throw in a dollop of Biblical imagery – Amos is set up as Moses, complete with burning mountain to substitute for a burning bush – and you have an accurate picture of Amos Fortune: Free Man. Although the author is less blatantly racist than in Daniel Boone, there are many, many references to “his people” as well as statements like “those black people, nothing but children. It’s a good thing for them the whites took them over” (90). Some of this, particularly the portions that appear in dialogue, serves to accurately capture the mood toward Africans in the time period (late 1700’s), but not all of it. The book also minimizes the very real horrors of slavery, as Amos was always owned by “good” people and whipped only on the boat over from Africa.

Skip this one. It’s racist, but more importantly, it’s really boring, with poor narration and emotion-less characters. Not even the pictures (which also portrayed Amos using racist tropes), save it.

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