Elizabeth Keckley wrote BEHIND THE SCENES OR, THIRTY YEARS A SLAVE, AND FOUR YEARS IN THE WHITE HOUSE in 1868. While the book received a great deal of attention when it was published, both she and the book were largely forgotten until the recent publication of MRS. LINCOLN’S DRESSMAKER by Jennifer Chiaverini in which she both bases and quotes much of her book.In short, this book is about Mrs. Keckley’s life from her birth as a slave through her years as a seamstress and entrepreneur to her relationship with Mrs. Lincoln following President Lincoln’s assassination. The second focus is on the character, relationships, and actions of Mrs. Lincoln from her time in the White House to a year after President Lincoln’s assassination. It is not at all what one would expect to read from a woman born into slavery.However, there is so much literary beauty in this book that I am including many examples of what I found that fueled my interest. In the preface, Mrs. Keckley explained that she wrote the book to “place Mrs. Lincoln in a better light before the world.” She continues that both their characters are “at stake, since I have been intimately associated with that lady in the most eventful periods of her life. I have been her confidant...and have been party to all her movements.” The book includes several letters from Mrs. Lincoln to Mrs. Keckley verifying their close relationship. One, sent from Chicago after the assassination reads, “My Dear Lizzie,...I consider you my best living friend....Always truly yours, M. L.”She began by telling the story of her childhood as a slave, born in Virginia. Her father lived on another plantation and was cruelly moved further away. She never saw him again but hoped to see him in heaven. She wrote, “We who are crushed to earth with heavy chains, who travel a weary, rugged, thorny road, groping through midnight darkness on earth, earn our right to enjoy the sunshine in the great hereafter.”Speaking of life as a slave, she observed having what could be interpreted as a negative attitude could result in punishment. “The sunny face of the slave is not always an indication of sunshine in the heart.” She did not want to marry and have children because she did not think want to bring a child into slavery. Her son was the result of rape. “The Anglo-Saxon blood as well as the African flowed in his veins; the two commingled–one singing of freedom, the other silent and sullen with generations of despair....By the laws of God and nature, as interpreted by man, one-half of my boy was free, and why should not this fair birthright of freedom remove the curse from the other half...?” But she did marry into a troubling relationship.Mrs. Keckley writes about a visit she made to the plantation where she had been a slave following her White House years. She was greeted warmly, as she expected to be because of the “warm attachment between master and slave.”She was an accomplished seamstress and was able to use her skills to help support her family and to buy freedom for herself and her son for $1200. She borrowed the money from her patrons in St. Louis, and was able to repay it. She then moved to Baltimore, then to Washington City, now known as Washington, D.C. There she found a different life, being treated with respect by merchants and establishing a dressmaking shop serving women such as the wives of Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee. When Abraham Lincoln became President, her skills brought her to the attention of Mrs. Lincoln. Mrs. Lincoln relied on her not only for her needle skills but also as a confident and friend. (Many in the capital avoided Mrs. Lincoln for many reasons: She was from the West; she was opinionated ;she was jealous; she was suspicious; she was moody.) Following the death of Willie Lincoln, the second of her sons to die, Mrs. Lincoln entered into a deep depression, she was adamant against allowing her older son Robert enlist in the Army. She thought she had sacrificed enough and that his services were not needed. Eventually he did enlist but was assigned to a less dangerous position.Mrs. Keckley observed that freedmen came North “looking for liberty, and many of them not knowing it when they found it.” People weren’t as friendly as they were in the South and many former slaves had difficulty coping with independence. Their helplessness was branded idleness. “Charity is never kind,” she wrote. .Freedom brought poverty. She wrote that “Colored people are wedded to associations and when you destroy these you destroy half the happiness in their lives.” They would rather live in poor, familiar surroundings with those they knew than travel and find what, to others, would be a better life. Many slaves believed they had “earned our right to enjoy the sunshine in the great hereafter.” Education was very important to her. She learned to read and write, against the wishes of her masters, and her son attended college. She began an association to help poor colored people, especially soldiers. In the process, she became acquainted with people such as Frederick Douglass. When Richmond fell, she and the girls who worked for her were “elated” because “the rebel capital had surrendered to colored troops.” When President Lincoln and his party went there by boat, he asked the band to play one of his favorite tunes, “Dixie.”After Willie’s death Mary Lincoln went into a deep depression. When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated it got worse; Mrs. Keckley and the Lincoln children were her only companions.She refused to see any other callers.Even though she had a seamstress business to run in Washington, Mrs. Lincoln insisted that Mrs. Keckley accompany her to Chicago where Mrs. Lincoln continued her isolation. While there, Tad’s lack of education becomes very apparent when he refuses to admit that A-p-e doesn’t spell monkey. Mrs. Keckley observed, “Had Tad been a negro boy, not the son of a President, and so difficult to instruct, he would have been called thick-skulled, and would have been held up as an example of the inferiority of race....If a colored boy appears dull, so does a white boy sometimes; and if a whole race is judged by a single example of apparent dullness, another race should be judged by a similar example.”At the time of President Lincoln’s death, Mrs. Lincoln owed $70,000 for her extravagant personal purchases. She tried several methods to raise money and eventually moved to Chicago. “The colored people...intend to take up collections in their churches for the benefit of Mrs. Lincoln.” When told about it, “Mrs. Lincoln...declined to receive aid from the colored people.” Mrs. Keckley also consulted with Frederick Douglass about ways to help Mrs. Lincoln.Mrs. Keckley was given several personal items from both President and Mrs. Lincoln. Many were donated to Wilberforce University, a colored college in Ohio, which had been destroyed by fire the night of the assassination. A quilt made from pieces of Mrs. Lincoln’s dresses was donated to Kent State University.BEHIND THE SCENES OR, THIRTY YEARS A SLAVE, AND FOUR YEARS IN THE WHITE HOUSE is a wonderful, very personal memoire of a remarkable woman living in and reporting on an important part of American history. I heartily recommend it. This book was an e-book.