Slavery in America

Read FeedShaw/Watha T. Daniel Library

Slavery in America

I haven’t had a chance yet to see Washington’s new and acclaimed National Museum of African American History and Culture. Tickets are hard to come by! In the meantime, I’ve been doing some reading to prepare for a visit in the near future. These books of historical fiction succeed in making the unimaginable all too real.

Beloved by Toni Morrison
In Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Beloved, pregnant Sethe and her children make an incredible escape from a small farm in Kentucky across the river to Ohio. Years later, although free and safe, they continue to be tormented by "rememories" and haunted by ghosts. This one is gothic and raw.

The Known World by Edward P. Jones
Another Pulitzer Prize winner, The Known World follows a community in turmoil as a result of the death of Henry Townsend, owner of 50 acres of land and 31 slaves in central Virginia. The twist here is that Henry himself is a freed slave. With a detached tone, native Washingtonian Jones portrays a world of colorful characters and a complicated social order.

Song Yet Sung by James McBride
The central character in Song Yet Sung is 19-year old runaway slave Liz Spocott. Liz is "a dreamer, a magic conjurer" who has visions of a future recognizable as America today. With help from the Underground Railroad network, she takes refuge in the woods and marshes of Maryland’s eastern shore as a band of slave traders and a slave catcher compete to capture her first.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Homegoing spans over three hundred years and seven generations on both sides of the Atlantic. It starts in the mid-1700s with half-sisters Effia and Esi in Ghana on the Gold Coast of Africa. Effia marries a British soldier and slave trader, while her half-sister survives a slave ship crossing to America. In Africa, the European slave traders exploit the rivalry between the Asante and Fante kingdoms to their advantage. Esi’s descendants in America are enslaved on southern plantations, escape via the Underground Railroad, and move north to Harlem in the Great Migration.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
The novel The Underground Railroad tells the story of young slave Cora’s escape from a Georgia plantation to freedom. Cora follows in the footsteps of her mother, who disappeared from the plantation (and abandoned Cora) without a trace several years earlier. As the author imagines it, the escape network is literally a railroad system with trains and underground stations. Above ground, each stop is a vivid and realistically imagined world where Cora encounters new and different horrors from those she left behind on the plantation. The Underground Railroad won the National Book Award for Fiction.