Susie King Taylor, the first black nurse in the Civil War, achieved many firsts in her lifetime. She overcame extreme adversity and helped elevate others out of slavery.
Susie King Taylor (born Susan Baker) was born into slavery near Savannah, Georgia in 1848. At age 7 she was allowed to go live with her grandmother in Savannah. Under the slave law, it was illegal to teach slaves how to read and write. Her grandmother strongly believed that education was the best way to help secure permanent freedom. Despite Georgia’s harsh laws against the formal education of African-Americans, she attended two secret schools taught by black women. To avoid detection by the police and others, the children would wrap their books with paper and would enter the school (home) separately throughout the morning rather in groups. Her literacy would prove to be invaluable in her own life and the lives of other African-Americans that she educated during the war.
In her early teens, her family fled to St. Simons Island, a Union-controlled area in Georgia during the Civil War, with hundreds of other formerly enslaved refugees. She impressed the army officers with her intelligence and literacy skills, she was offered books and asked to organize a school. At age 14, Susie King Taylor became the first black teacher to openly educate African-Americans in Georgia.
Not long after, she married and joined her husband, a black officer in the 33rd United States Colored Infantry Regiment. She began teaching the soldiers to read and write. Eventually, Susie King Taylor became a nurse to the sick and injured men in the infantry, thus making her the first black army nurse in the Civil War, she was just 18 years old. She served the Union military for over four years until with war ended. She didn’t get paid a dime for her services.
In 1902, Susie King Taylor published her memoirs ‘Reminiscences’, making her first and only African-American woman to publish an account of her experiences of the Civil War.
We salute this American hero for her intelligence, bravery and steady willingness to elevate others.
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