After the Civil War, African Americans placed poignant “information wanted” advertisements in newspapers, searching for missing family members. Inspired by the power of these ads, Heather Andrea Williams uses slave narratives, letters, interviews, public records, and diaries to guide listeners back to devastating moments of family separation during slavery when people were sold away from parents, siblings, spouses, and children. Williams explores these heartbreaking stories and the long, usually unsuccessful journeys toward reunification. Examining the interior lives of the enslaved and freed people as they tried to come to terms with great loss, Williams grounds their grief, fear, anger, longing, frustration, and hope in the history of American slavery and the domestic slave trade.
Williams follows those who were separated, chronicles their searches, and documents the rare experience of reunion. She also explores the empathy, sympathy, indifference, and hostility expressed by whites about sundered black families. Williams shows how searches for family members in the post - Civil War era continue to reverberate in African American culture in the ongoing search for family history and connection across generations.
About the author: Heather Andrea Williams is associate professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and author of Self-Taught: African American Education in Slavery and Freedom.
“Williams examines the historical fact of family separation and renders its emotional truth. She is the rare scholar who writes history with such tenderness that her words can bring a reader to tears…[The book] has a propulsive narrative flow, and with each successive chapter the suppleness of Williams’ prose grows.” (New York Times Book Review)
“Inspired by ‘information wanted’ advertisements that African Americans placed in newspapers to find loved ones after the Civil War, Williams examines the emotional and psychological effects of separation and reunion on both free and enslaved African Americans…An important addition to African American history collections.” (Library Journal)
“Drawing on interviews with former slaves, journals, letters, and documents, including advertisements searching for information on long-lost relatives, Williams allows the enslaved and formerly enslaved to speak for themselves on loss and the physical and emotional tribulations of slavery…Williams’ source materials and her own narrative evoke the longing, fear, grief, and hope that have endured as black families continue to search genealogies to reconnect to family members lost to the cruelty of slavery.” (Booklist)
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Vulnerability and Grief
- ayodele higgs