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: Twenty-One Oral Histories of Former North Carolina Slaves
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.

I'd love to know what you think. Please leave a reply