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Susie King Taylor

Nurse, Teacher & Freedom Fighter

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About The Book

From the acclaimed, New York Times bestselling author of Never Caught and She Came to Slay comes a vibrant middle grade biography of Susie King Taylor, one of the first Black Civil War nurses, in a new series spotlighting Black women who left their mark on history.

A groundbreaking figure in every sense of the word, Susie King Taylor (1848–1912) was one of the first Black nurses during the Civil War, tending to the wounded soldiers of the 1st South Carolina Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Afterward, she was a key figure in establishing a postbellum educational system for formerly bonded Black people, opening several dedicated schools in Georgia. Taylor was also one of the first Black women to publish her memoirs.

Even as her country was at war with itself, Taylor valiantly fought for the rights of her people and demonstrated true heroism.

Reading Group Guide

A Curriculum Guide to

Susie King Taylor:

Nurse, Teacher, & Freedom Fighter

By Erica Armstrong Dunbar & Candace Buford

About the Book

From a young age, Susie King Taylor understood that things had to change for Black and enslaved people in America. While she was grateful to have lived for a while with her grandmother in Savannah, Georgia, this did not equate to the life and freedom that she and many others like her deserved. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Taylor took a leap of faith and ran away, toward the promise of freedom toward the Union camp.

With the camaraderie of the First South Carolina Colored Troops, the first Black military regiment to fight for the United States of America, Taylor went on to become a talented and beloved teacher, nurse, and leader. This book, based on Taylor’s firsthand account of her time during and after the Civil War, breathes narrative context and emotion into the story of one of America’s truest war heroines.

Discussion Questions

1. Discuss the impact of education on Susie King Taylor’s life and career. How might things have been different if her grandmother hadn’t instilled the value of education in her?

2. Why do you think Taylor was willing to risk running away? What would you have done if you were in her position?

3. The Yankees harbored Taylor and other Black runaways, referring to them as “contraband.” (Chapter eight) This didn’t sit well with Taylor. Discuss the role of titles and how they impact our perception of ourselves and others.

4. How did Taylor’s perception of the Yankee soldiers change once she escaped? Was she correct in her initial beliefs? Why or why not?

5. In your opinion, what incentives did the Yankees have to hide and release enslaved Black people?

6. Discuss the significance of St. Simon’s Island. What did this place mean in reference to Susie King Taylor’s past and to her future?

7. In the Settlement of War agreement, it was proposed that freed Blacks in the South be sent to Liberia, a country in West Africa. Why do you believe this choice was offered?

8. Despite unequal access to uniforms, supplies, and compensation, the First South Carolina Colored Troops eagerly offered their lives in service to the Union’s cause in the Civil War. Why do you think this is?

9. Though Susie King Taylor’s story chronicles the difficulties of war, there are a number of moments where humor and frivolity lighten the mood. Discuss the Moments of humor in Taylor’s survival.

10. Taylor’s ingenuity, or cleverness, aided her and her regiment throughout the war. From her use of bacon fat for making soap to her makeshift furnace that saved her from hypothermia, Taylor always found a way to improve things. What other examples of clever problem-solving can be found in the book? How might things have turned out differently without her inventive thinking?

11. Taylor lived by her grandmother’s habit of drinking sassafras tea. Do you have any family remedies or recipes that you follow? Where did they come from?

12. During the war, Susie King Taylor was an invaluable asset to the cause. Afterward, however, there was no promise of rights or even compensation for women such as herself. Discuss the outcome of the war and the differences in its impact on Black men versus Black women.

13. In Taylor’s postwar trip to visit her son, she experiences a distinct difference in treatment as she travels from Boston to Louisiana. If you were in her shoes, how would you feel? Would you react any differently than she did? If so, in what ways?

14. In the book, Taylor speaks often of the idea of home. In your opinion, what makes a place home? Why do you think this is?

15. Despite the end of the war, Rebel bushwhackers continued to attack and kill Union men. Why do you believe these individuals refused to surrender?

16. This book is based heavily on Susie King Taylor’s book Reminiscences. Upon reading King Taylor’s original text, compare the two texts. What was the same? Different?

17. Even as she fought against the Confederates, Taylor empathized with their wounded and dead. Have you ever disagreed with someone and also empathized with them? What happened? How did you reconcile your feelings, if at all?

18. Taylor and Edward found love in each other amidst a raging war. Discuss their relationship: What brought and kept them together?

19. Upon seeing human skulls and bones, Taylor suggests that death is the great equalizer. Do you believe this to be true today? Discuss.

Extension Activities

Mapping the Civil War

From the book, we learn that the Civil War was fought between the Union (Northern states) and the Confederacy (Southern states). To better understand the outcomes of the war and Susie King Taylor’s experience of it, we must also understand the geography and key locations where it took place.

Materials

A map of the United States during the Civil War (can be printed or drawn)

Colored pencils or markers

Copy of Susie King Taylor

Reference materials about the Civil War (books, articles, or online resources)

Instructions

Begin by labeling the map with important geographical features, such as rivers, mountain ranges, and cities.

Next, using different colors, identify areas controlled by the Union and by the Confederacy.

With your book as a reference, make a list of locations that Susie and her regiment encountered. Mark these on your map, using distinct symbols or colors. Using a dotted line, follow the regiment’s direction of travel.

Using reference materials, research and locate the marked events and locations on the map. Write a brief description of each event to accompany your map.

Finally, select one of the events and give a short presentation on it, explaining its significance both in the book and in the course of the war. After presentations, the group or class should engage in a discussion reflecting on the trends and outcomes they noticed through observing the geography of the war.

Various Viewpoints

Reading Susie King Taylor’s story, we learn firsthand about her experiences and point of view during the Civil War. We can gain a deeper understanding of actions, motivations, and outcomes of the Civil War, by considering various points of view of those involved.

Instructions

a) Choose a character in the book whose perspective you’d like to explore. Consider their race, gender, and status (free, enslaved, military rank, Rebel, Union).

b) From this character’s perspective, write a one-page diary entry retelling a scene in the book.

c) Finally, write a one-paragraph reflection. Did your perspective or considerations change as you wrote from this different point of view? Did any questions arise that perhaps you hadn’t thought of before?

d) Share your entry and reflections with others. What do you notice?

Read More Books Like Susie King Taylor

● The Seeds of America Trilogy by Laurie Halse Anderson

Saving Savannah by Tonya Bolden

Mare’s War by Tanita S. Davis

The Davenports by Krystal Marquis

Riot by Walter Dean Myers

So Many Beginnings: A Little Women Remix by Bethany C. Morrow

The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin

Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith

Read More by Candace Buford

Kneel

Read More by Erica Armstrong Dunbar

Never Caught, the Story of Ona Judge (Young Readers Edition)

A Living Legacy

Susie King Taylor continues to be celebrated for her many achievements. In 2020, she was inducted into the Reading Hall of Fame as an Honorary Member[1]. This induction is a testament to her impact on Black people’s literacy, and her legacy as a champion for access to lifelong learning for all.

Melanie Kirkwood Marshall holds a BA in Secondary English Education from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a M.Ed in Reading Education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She has taught in many learning contexts from High School ELA teacher to Primary Literacy Interventionist. Currently, Melanie is completing her doctoral studies in Multicultural Children’s Literature at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit simonandschuster.net or simonandschuster.net/thebookpantry.

[1]The Reading Hall of Fame is an international organization begun in 1973 and honors leaders past and present that have made important contributions to the area of reading. https://www.readinghalloffame.org/sites/default/files/ira_aaron_rhf_history.pdf

About The Authors

Photograph by Whitney Thomas

Erica Armstrong Dunbar is the Charles and Mary Beard Professor of History at Rutgers University. Her first book, A Fragile Freedom: African American Women and Emancipation in the Antebellum City, was published by Yale University Press in 2008. Her second book, Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge was a 2017 finalist for the National Book Award in nonfiction and a winner of the 2018 Frederick Douglass Book Award. She is also the author of She Came to Slay, an illustrated tribute to Harriet Tubman, and Susie King Taylor and is the co-executive producer of the HBO series The Gilded Age.

Clementine Cayrol

Candace Buford has always been drawn to stories with strong and complex people of color. She graduated from Duke University with a degree in German literature and holds a law degree from Penn State Law, as well as a business degree from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. She is the author of the critically acclaimed novels Kneel and Good as Gold. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @CandaceBuford. 

Product Details

Raves and Reviews

"Captivating."

Publishers Weekly

* "a fabulous assition to all libraries adn an important part of history nto to be missed. Highly recommended."

School Library Journal, starred review

"A remarkable true story about harnessing one’s inherent dignity in a hostile world."

Kirkus Reviews

Resources and Downloads

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More books from this author: Erica Armstrong Dunbar