Enslavement: Adult Readings

Today, rather than reviewing material for children and young adults, I’m recommending a few books for adults. If you’re selecting books about enslavement, reading them to children or even teaching about it, you’ll find these books more than helpful. You may wonder why I’m not recommending other books that are well known and important reading on the subject. I’m only recommending books I have read. I am not reviewing, only recommending. Feel free to provide additional titles in the comments because this list is just a beginning.

American Slavery 1619-1887 by Peter Kolchin. Hill and Wang, 1993.
A concise, engaging overview of American slavery from the beginning of the colonial era to emancipation and its aftermath. Kolchin takes a broad geographical perspective, putting American slavery in the context of a general trend toward use of forced labor on the periphery of an expanding Europe.This incisive synthesis fills a major gap for the general reader and for historians, who will find it both stimulating and appealing.

Before the Mayflower by Lerone Bennett. 1993, Penguin.
Traces black history from its origins in western Africa, through the transatlantic journey and slavery, the Reconstruction period, the Jim Crow era, and the civil rights movement, to life in the 1990s.

From Slavery to Freedom by John Hope Franklin. McGraw Hill, 9th edition, 2010.
From Slavery to Freedom remains the most revered, respected, and honored text on the market. The preeminent history of African Americans, this best-selling text charts the journey of African Americans from their origins in Africa, through slavery in the Western Hemisphere, struggles for freedom in the West Indies, Latin America, and the United States, various migrations, and the continuing quest for racial equality. Building on John Hope Franklin’s classic work, the ninth edition has been thoroughly rewritten by the award-winning scholar Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham. It includes new chapters and updated information based on the most current scholarship. With a new narrative that brings intellectual depth and fresh insight to a rich array of topics, the text features greater coverage of ancestral Africa, African American women, differing expressions of protest, local community activism, black internationalism, civil rights and black power, as well as the election of our first African American president in 2008. The text also has a fresh new 4-color design with new charts, maps, photographs, paintings, and illustrations.

Slaves in the Family by Edward Ball. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014.
The Ball family hails from South Carolina―Charleston and thereabouts. Their plantations were among the oldest and longest-standing plantations in the South. Between 1698 and 1865, close to four thousand black people were born into slavery under the Balls or were bought by them. In Slaves in the Family, Edward Ball recounts his efforts to track down and meet the descendants of his family’s slaves. Part historical narrative, part oral history, part personal story of investigation and catharsis, Slaves in the Family is, in the words of Pat Conroy, “a work of breathtaking generosity and courage, a magnificent study of the complexity and strangeness and beauty of the word ‘family.'”

Uncommon Ground by Leland Furguson. Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992.
Winner of the Southern Anthropological Society’s prestigious James Mooney Award, Uncommon Ground takes a unique archaeological approach to examining early African American life. Ferguson shows how black pioneers worked within the bars of bondage to shape their distinct identity and lay a rich foundation for the multicultural adjustments that became colonial America. Through pre-Revolutionary period artifacts gathered from plantations and urban slave communities, Ferguson integrates folklore, history, and research to reveal how these enslaved people actually lived. Impeccably researched and beautifully written.

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