I have no idea why I haven't encountered this book at some point in my life thus far; it seems that Ernest Gaines' Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman should have been on some history or literature reading list! I read this because I'm co-teaching a literature circle for middle schoolers on the black experience in America, and I'm glad I did. I hear the movie is good, too, so I'm going to be looking for that at our library.
The novel, written as an autobiography, begins with Miss Jane Pittman as the little slave girl, Ticey, at the end of the Civil War, and takes us through 100 years to the beginning of the Civil Rights era of the 1960s. Jane is a determined, courageous woman who strives to maintain dignity through the trials and victories of her life, from trying to find Ohio as a little girl to settling down to work in southern Louisiana to bearing the murder of her adopted son to winning the respect of the white plantation owner for whom she works.
I loved Miss Jane's commanding, matter-of-fact voice and her tremendous wisdom. This book is not only great reading but would be an excellent addition to any American history program. We're not going to be using it for our class because it's not quite so engaging for middle-school readers, but I highly recommend it for about 8th grade on up.