Tag Archives: history

Two Short Reviews of Books About Slavery

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Today I planned to share a review of the book Slaves in the Family by Edward Ball. When I looked at the review, I realized it was very short, so I looked for another review that could go with it. I found I’d also read and reviewed My Folks Don’t Want Me to Talk about Slavery: Twenty-one Oral Histories of Former North Carolina Slaves. Not only are both books histories of enslaved people in the United States, both are also about slavery in the Carolinas. The first book is about a family in South Carolina. The second book contains the oral histories of people who were enslaved in North Carolina.

At its most basic level, Slaves in the Family is the true story of a man (the author, Edward Ball) who is the descendant of a slave-owning family from the Southern United States. Ball grew curious about the people his family once owned and went on a quest to learn about those enslaved people and their descendants. His quest took him across the U.S., as well as to Sierra Leon, the point in Africa where the forced labor of many enslaved people began.

On a broader level, this book is a history of slave trading and slavery in the United States, particularly in South Carolina, where a vast number of enslaved people first entered the United States. This book shed light (at least for me) on the role slavery played in instigating the Revolutionary War. It also explained events leading up to the Civil War, as well as why South Carolina took a lead in secession.

Edward Ball obviously spent a great deal of time researching his family and the people they owned, as well as the history of slavery in his home state of South Carolina and beyond.

I especially appreciated the passages where Ball allowed the descendants of enslaved people to tell their families’ passed-down stories to refute the Ball family oral tradition of being kind and benevolent masters. I appreciated it even more when Ball used his family’s historical records to support what the descendants of the enslaved said and refute his own family stories.

The 400+ pages of text is followed by several family trees, tracing the descendants of several women enslaved by the Ball family; many pages of notes; and an index.

While this book was not dumbed down in any way, it’s accessible and easy to read. Edward Ball definitely wrote this book to appeal to a wide audience. This book should be mandatory reading for any South Carolina history class, as well as any class focused on slavery in the United States. It’s also a must-read for any student of antebellum history, as well as an interesting and compelling work of nonfiction.

My Folks Don’t Want Me to Talk About Slavery, edited by Belinda Hurmence,  contains the stories of real people who were enslaved in North Carolina. These folks (in their 80s and 90s and 100s at the time) told their stories to people working for the Federal Writers’ Project during the Great Depression. Over 2,000 former slaves participated in this project. This book collects the oral histories of twenty-one former slaves from North Carolina.

Most of these stories are three or four pages long and are written the way the people who told them spoke. Some talk about beatings and abuse, scarcity of food, and lack of adequate clothing and housing. More disturbing to me where the people who said they had been better off under slavery.

This book is sobering, and needs to be read widely. It should be read in every high school and collage American history class, as well as by every adult who calls him or herself an American.

Jerome, AZ

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Cleopatra Hill in Jerome, AZ

A friend and I visited Jerome, AZ in February 2016. We arrived mid-morning and left mid-afternoon. We spent our day learning about the town’s history and walking around looking at the old buildings and the new art.

The town’s website says,

Located high on top of Cleopatra Hill (5,200 feet) between Prescott and Flagstaff is the historic copper mining town of Jerome, Arizona. Once known as the wickedest town in the west, Jerome was a copper mining camp, growing from a settlement of tents to a roaring mining community. Four disastrous fires destroyed large sections of the town during its early history, resulting in the incorporation of the City of Jerome in 1899.

Founded in 1876, Jerome was once the fourth largest city in the Arizona Territory. The population peaked at 15,000 in the 1920’s.

Douglas Mansion Museum in the Jerome Historic Park, seen from a distance

This photo shows the Douglas Mansion in the Jerome Historic Park, seen from a distance. The Mansion houses a museum.

My friend and I started our day at the Douglas Mansion museum in the Jerome State Historic Park. Adults pay $7 admission to the park, but there is no additional charge to visit the museum.

The Jerome State Historic Park website has information about the mansion.

The Douglas Mansion has been an eye-catching landmark in Jerome since 1916, when James S. Douglas built it on the hill just above his Little Daisy Mine. This former home is now a museum devoted to the history of the Jerome area and the Douglas family. The museum features photographs, artifacts and minerals in addition to a video presentation and a 3-D model of the town with its underground mines.

I thought the admission fee was money well spent to learn about the history of the town. This museum was a joy to visit. The exhibits are nicely laid out and consideration obviously has gone into choosing artifacts to share. The items on display were very well-organized. It wasn’t overrun by stuff that was just old but not very interesting. Maybe because this is a state-run museum, there are funds and expertise available to do the exhibits well.

The rock room was GREAT! It housed a large variety of specimens Don’t miss the glow-in-the dark minerals in the

This piece of azurite and malachite is on display outside, not in the rock room, but it's a gorgeous specimen nonetheless.

This piece of azurite and malachite is on display outside, not in the rock room, but it’s a gorgeous specimen nonetheless.

small room on the side. Once you’re in the room, you press a button, the lights go out, and rocks light up in a variety of amazing colors. WOW!

I highly recommend  the short (half an hour or so) documentary about Jerome shown in the master bedroom. I learned a LOT about the town’s history from that video. When you arrive, ask the ranger when the next showing starts.

Parts of the documentary (like the ghost of a miner who narrates the movie) are a little cheesy, but the information I learned outweighed the silliness. (Perhaps the ghost character was there to make the film more interesting to children. Perhaps the filmmakers decided a movie about a ghost town required a ghost.)

Something I really appreciated about the documentary at the museum and the historical plaques s around town is the mater-of-fact presentation of Jerome’s rowdy past. The present-day citizens of Jerome don’t try to gloss over or clean up the town’s rough history. The good people of Jerome are proud of the town’s past as part of the Wild West. Yes, there were saloons in the town. There was gambling, yes sir, there was. Jerome had brothels and in those brothels were prostitutes, doing what prostitutes do. Jerome was a town of ruffians, and the current inhabitants want visitors to know all about it.

 The aforementioned Jerome SHP website gives more of the town’s history.
This building is a piece of Jerome's mining history visible from the state park. It is the Little Daisy Hotel, built in 1919 by the Phelps Dodge company as housing for their employees. It's now a private residence.

This building, visible from the state park, is a piece of Jerome’s mining history. It is the Little Daisy Hotel, built in 1919 by the Phelps Dodge company as housing for employees. It’s now a private residence.

Jerome’s modern history began in 1876 when three prospectors staked claims on rich copper deposits. They sold out to a group which formed the United Verde Copper Company in 1883. The resultant mining camp of board and canvas shacks was named in honor of Eugene Jerome, the venture’s principal backer. Hopes for the enterprise ran high, but the costs of operating, especially for transportation, outstripped profits, and the company folded in less than two years.
Wikipedia offers insight into to town’s past and present demographics.

The makeup of early Jerome differed greatly from the 21st-century version of the town. The original mining claims were filed by Whites, but as the mines were developed, workers of many nationalities arrived. Among these were people of Irish, Chinese, Italian, and Slavic origin who came to Jerome in the late 19th century. By the time of World War I, Mexican nationals were arriving in large numbers, and census figures suggest that in 1930 about 60 percent of the town’s residents were Latino.[54]

The ratio of females to males also varied greatly over time in Jerome. Census data from 1900 through 1950 show a gradual rise in the percentage of female residents, who accounted for only 22 percent of the population at the turn of the century but about 50 percent by mid-century.[56]

As of the census of 2000, there were 329 people, 182 households, and 84 families residing in the town.

Jerome is a fun and fascinating place to visit for anyone interest in the history of the Wild West, mining, or Arizona.

This photo shows a view of the mine from the Jerome State Historic Park.

This photo shows a view of the mine from the Jerome State Historic Park.

I took all of the photos in this post.