An Introduction to The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Ernest J

An Introduction to Ernest J. Gaines,
The Autobiography of Miss Jane
Pittman, and the Civil Rights
Ernest J. Gaines
• Born in 1933 on River Lake Plantation near Oscar,
• His parents worked as laborers on the plantation
• At age nine, Gaines worked the fields for 50 cents a
day chopping sugar cane
• Wrote his first novel at age 16
• In 1957,Graduated from San Francisco State College
• In 1958, went to Stanford University on Wallace
Stegner Fellowship in creative writing
More about Ernest J. Gaines
• Spent much of his early childhood with his
aunt, Augusteen Jefferson
• His aunt’s strength and courage inspired the
creation of some of his most memorable
characters including Miss Jane Pittman
Some of Gaines’ Most Well-known
• Catherine Carmier, his first novel, was written
in 1964
• The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman
• A Gathering of Old Men (1983)
• A Lesson Before Dying (1993)
The Works of Ernest J. Gaines:
The Autobiography of Miss Jane
• Written in 1971
• NOT an autobiography
• Fictional work written as the life story of Jane
• An unnamed schoolteacher interviews Jane
and others to tell Jane’s story
Why is this novel important?
Why is The Autobiography of Miss
Jane Pittman Important?
• Depicts the struggle of a fictional African
American woman to find her place in the
world after the end of the Civil War
• Illustrates 100 years of history for black
Americans from the end of the Civil War to the
Civil Rights Movement
• Depicts racial tension during that period of
• Helps to answer the question, “What is an
The Autobiography of Miss Jane
Pittman’s 4 Books:
The War Years – Covers the period near the end
of the Civil War
Other sections include: Reconstruction, The
Plantation, and The Quarters
Setting of Autobiography of Miss
Jane Pittman:
Rural Louisiana from 1864 to 1962
Some Themes in the Novel:
What is freedom?
Struggle for survival
Standing up for one’s beliefs and being willing to die
for one’s beliefs
• What is an American?
• Struggle for equality
• The cost of living according to social rules
Important Terms/Background
• Freedmen’s Bureau – U.S. agency established in 1865 to
provide aid to freed blacks after the Civil War
• Reconstruction – Period of readjustment after the Civil War
(1865 to 1877)
• Frederick Douglass – Black leader who promoted social
equality for Black Americans
• Booker T. Washington – Black leader who promoted
education and economic independence for Black Americans
• Secesh – A secessionist or one who wants to secede or
separate from the union.
More Important
Terms/Background information:
• Martin Luther King Jr. – An American clergyman and
leader of the civil rights movement who was assassinated
in 1968.
• Patrollers – Poor white men who capture runaway slaves
for the masters. Torture and kill slaves without remorse.
• Cajuns – Group of French-speaking people in southern
Louisiana who were exiled from Acadia, Canada in the
• Creole – A person from a mixed racial background who
speaks a blend of French and Spanish
Civil Rights Movement & The Autobiography of
Miss Jane Pittman:
• Civil Rights Movement – was aimed at
outlawing racial discrimination against blacks
• Defined black America’s struggle for voting
rights, full citizenship, and equality
• Help to end segregation of Blacks
• Segregation – Blacks were essentially
separated by race from the rest of society
More on Civil Rights Movement:
• Brown vs. Board of Education – 1954 U.S.
Supreme Court case that declared segregation
in pubic schools was unconstitutional
• Civil Rights Bill – was passed in 1964 and
declared that segregation in public places was
Civil Rights Videos:
• History Channel Videos:
• Separate but Not Equal (2:21)
• King Leads the March on Washington (3:10)

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