Laurence Fishburne Reads a Former Slave’s Incredible Letter to His Old Master (1865)

Laurence Fishburne Reads a Former Slave’s Incredible Letter to His Old Master (1865)

Open Culture

by Colin Marshall

Mar 21, 2024

In a poignant piece shared by Open Culture, Colin Marshall highlights a compelling performance by Laurence Fishburne, who reads a remarkable letter written in 1865 by a former slave named Jourdon Anderson to his old master, invoking a deep exploration of historical injustices and personal dignity. This event, captured for Letters Live, showcases Fishburne's unique ability to convey a blend of moral seriousness and humor, traits that have solidified his status as a beloved figure in pop culture and beyond.

Jourdon Anderson's letter, penned after his escape from slavery in Tennessee and his establishment of a new life in Ohio, responds to a request from his former master to return to work on the plantation. With a mix of gravitas and wry irony, Anderson outlines his conditions for considering such a return, effectively turning the tables on the power dynamics of his former enslavement. He humorously queries about the wages he would be offered, contrasting his current situation in Ohio—where he earns $25 a month plus provisions and housing, and his children receive an education—with the prospect of returning to a life of subjugation.

Fishburne's reading of Anderson's words not only captivates the audience but also serves as a powerful reminder of the resilience and agency of those who were enslaved. Anderson's letter, which was widely published in newspapers at the time, did not elicit a response from Colonel P. H. Anderson, the letter's recipient, but it did earn acclaim from the public and ensured that Jourdon Anderson's legacy of freedom and dignity would endure well beyond his lifetime.

This article, and Fishburne's reading, highlight an essential chapter of American history, emphasizing the importance of recognizing the personal narratives and struggles of those who lived through the era of slavery. It also underscores the value of archival projects and historical research, such as the Library of Congress's interviews with formerly enslaved people, the documentation of slave houses in the U.S., and databases that help African Americans trace their ancestry, in enriching our understanding of the past.

Colin Marshall's reflection on this performance and the letter itself invites readers to reconsider the narratives we inherit about slavery and the resilience of individuals who navigated and resisted these oppressive systems. By bringing to life Jourdon Anderson's words through Fishburne's voice, this piece serves as a testament to the enduring power of written and spoken word to challenge injustices and celebrate human dignity.

Source: Laurence Fishburne Reads a Former Slave’s Incredible Letter to His ...

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Prepared with the assistance of AI software

OpenAI. (2024). ChatGPT (4) [Large language model].

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