A Picture of Freedom: The Diary of Clotee, a Slave Girl is a fictional diary written by Patricia C. McKissack. It is the fourth book in Scholastic's Dear America series. The book was first published in March 1997 and reissued in January 2011. It has also been republished in My Story and Mon Histoire. In 1999, a television film based on the book was released.
Clotee is a twelve-year-old slave who secretly learns how to read and write in 1859.
- "Honoring Lizzie Passmore my great-great-great grandmother who dared to learn and teach"
- "Day or two later
Freedom is one of the first words I teached myself to write. Down in the Quarters people pray for freedom—they sing 'bout freedom, but to keep Mas' Henley from knowin' their true feelings, they call freedom "heaven." Everybody's mind is on freedom. But it is a word that aine never showed me no picture. While fannin' this afternoon, my eyes fell on "freedom" in a book William was readin'. No wonder I don't see nothin'. I been spellin' it F-R-E-D-U-M. I put the right letters in my head to make sure I remembered their place. F-R-E-E-D-O-M. I just now wrote it. Still no picture...."
- "My name is Clotee. This is my story....
Twelve-year-old Clotee, a slave, has the most wonderful, terrible secret. While doing her job of fanning her master's son during his daily lessons, Clotee has taught herself to read and write. She knows that if she shares this secret with the wrong person, she will face unimaginable consequences. Soon she discovers that the tutor, Ely Harms, has a secret of his own. In a time when literacy is one of the most valuable skills to have, Clotee is determined to use her secret to save herself and her friends. Her journey to freedom is wrought with the intrigue and disloyalty of spies and traitors, the celebrations of life, the bonds of family, and the anguish of death and slavery."
- "Day or two later
Freedom is one of the first words I teached myself to write. Down in the Quarters people pray for freedom—they sing 'bout freedom, but to keep Mas' Henley from knowin' their true feelings, they call freedom "heaven." Everybody's mind is on freedom. But it is a word that aine never showed me no picture. While fannin' this afternoon, my eyes fell on "freedom" in a book William was readin'. No wonder I don't see nothin'. I been spellin' it F-R-E-D-U-M. I put the right letters in my head to make sure I remembered their place. F-R-E-E-D-O-M. I just wrote it. Still no picture..."
- "In 1859 it's illegal for slaves to read and write, but Clotee is teaching herself in secret. "Freedom" is just another word she's learned to write. Then she finds out about the Underground Railroad, a network of people who help runaway slaves, and discovers that freedom is more than just a word..."
- "Partage le journal intime de Clotee, et vis avec elle l'esclavage dans une plantation de coton en Virginie.
Dimanche de Pâques. Liberté. C'est peut-être le premier mot j'ai appris toute seule. Ici, les gens, ils prient pour la liberté, ils chantent sur la liberté, mais pour pas que Maître Henley connaisse leurs vrais sentiments, ils appellent la liberté cieux. Tous, ils ont l'esprit fixé sur c'mot: liberté. Mais c'est un mot qui me parle pas, que j'ai encore jamais pu voir."
Twelve-year-old slave Clotee has learned how to read and write, while fanning William during his lessons with his mother Lilly Henley. Clotee has now pieced together a diary, in which she records her daily life. She was separated from her mother when she was young. An elderly couple, Aunt Tee and Uncle Heb are her surrogate parents, though she still misses her mother terribly. Clotee works in the "Big House" with Aunt Tee, who is Master Henley's cook. Her friend, Hince, who is like a brother to her, takes care of the horses.
In April 1859, Spicy comes to work in the kitchen. Aunt Tee suspects that she may be a spy, but she soon proves to be harmless. Meanwhile, Clotee learns about abolitionists, who help free slaves on the Underground Railroad. A few days later, Henley purchases a racing horse, named Dancer, and pretends that it is a gift for his son. Clotee suspects that William may try to ride Dancer. She informs his mother, but Lilly waves away her concern. Clotee's suspicions are right as William does try to ride him and injures himself. Master Henley goes into a rage, shooting Dancer and beating Heb, who helped saddle the horse.
Following Heb's death, Master Henley sends Aunt Tee and Spicy to the slave quarters. Clotee remains in the kitchen, but dislikes working with Eva Mae and Missy. A few weeks later, Ely Harms, a tutor for William, arrives. Clotee becomes suspicious of Mr. Harms, who appears to have learned her secret. In the meantime, she starts staying with Aunt Tee and Spicy in the quarters. They now have no secrets as Clotee divulges everything. In December, Mr. Harms finally reveals to Clotee that he is an abolitionist.
Master Henley makes a bet with the Campbelles', promising to give them Hince if they win. On New Year's Day, Hince loses the race since his horse was drugged, but he is unable to prove it. Hince tells Master Henley about Mr. Harms in exchange for his freedom papers. Clotee devises a plan to keep Mr. Harms from being hanged, though he is still forced to leave the plantation. Later, Clotee gets in touch with Mr. Harms, who promises to help her escape. Hince and Spicy, however, do not have time to wait, so Clotee comes up with good plan that works. Clotee decides to stay at the plantation and become a conductor on the Underground Railroad.
- Main article: List of A Picture of Freedom characters
- Clotee, a slave who secretly learns how to read and write. She starts writing a diary, but keeps it a secret from her friends. Clotee works with Aunt Tee in the kitchen of the "Big House".
- Spicy is Clotee's best friend. She is purchased by Lilly Henley and put to work in the kitchens in the spring of 1859. Spicy develops a crush on Clotee's friend Hince.
- Aunt Tee is a surrogate mother to Clotee. She is the cook on the plantation since Master Henley only trusts her cooking. Her husband is Uncle Heb, who takes care of the garden and orchards.
- Main article: Dear America: A Picture of Freedom
A Picture of Freedom was adapted into a short television film in 1999. The film was produced by Scholastic Entertainment and aired on HBO. It was released on video cassette the same year. Canadian actress Shadia Simmons starred in the film as Clotee.
- Main article: Patricia C. McKissack
Patricia C. McKissack (August 9, 1944 – April 7, 2017) was an American children's writer. She focused mainly on African-American history in her work. McKissack penned three books for Dear America, including Color Me Dark and Look to the Hills, and Nzingha: Warrior Queen of Matamba for The Royal Diaries.
A Picture of Freedom was McKissack's first full-length work of fiction. She received inspiration for the story from her great-great-great-grandmother, Lizzie Passmore. McKissack also used her research for Christmas in the Big House as the setting.