Susan Paul (1809 – 1841) was the first African-American woman to publish a biography in the United States. The book, Memoir of James Jackson (1835), describes the life of her young pupil at the city’s Abiel Smith School, the first public school building in the United States dedicated exclusively to African-American education. Paul was part of an influential Boston family whose father, Thomas Paul, founded the city’s African Baptist Church in 1806, and whose brother, Thomas Paul Jr., was one of the first African-Americans to graduate from Dartmouth College in 1841. In Boston, Paul used her in the local abolitionist movement, and her commitment to woman’s rights, to challenge Boston’s segregation, racial inequality, and southern slavery. Although she died, prematurely, in 1841, Paul’s book is the first to describe African-American children’s lives and community in the free, ante-bellum north.
Paul eventually became an officer of the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society and served as a representative to the New York Anti-Slavery Convention. Her memoir, however, was considered her most important work. It opened,
“The design of this Memoir is, to present the incidents in the life of a little colored boy.”
His final words, according to Paul, were “I must go.”
Ed. Lois Brown Memoir of James Jackson: The Attentive and Obedient Scholar, Who Died in Boston, October 31, 1833, Aged Six Years and Eleven Months(Harvard University Press, 2000)
Gay Gibson Cima Performing Anti-Slavery: Activist Women on Antebellum Stages(Cambridge University Press, 2014)
Stephen Kantrowitz More Than Freedom: Fighting for Black Citizenship in a White Republic 1829 – 1889(The Penguin Press, 2012)