All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake

Random. Jun. 2021. 416p. ISBN 9781984854995. $28. HIST
Miles (history, Harvard Univ.; The Dawn of Detroit) illuminates the lives of three generations of Black American women via a patched and embroidered cotton sack now displayed in the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Rose, an enslaved woman in South Carolina, filled the sack with what provisions and keepsakes she could for her 9-year-old daughter Ashley, who was sold away from her in the 1850s. Years later, Ashley’s granddaughter Ruth embroidered a narrative of the family history on the sack. From these small clues, Miles delves into Black Americans’ experience of slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow segregation, and the Great Migration. With skillful writing, the author carefully explores South Carolina’s history of economic dependence on slavery, and discusses the efforts of enslaved people to obtain sustenance and clothing and maintain family connections. Drawing on scant genealogical records and letters from people who were formerly enslaved, as well as research on ornamentation, Miles creates a moving account of three women whose stories might have otherwise been lost to history.
VERDICT Readers interested in often-overlooked lives and experiences, and anyone who cherishes a handcrafted heirloom, will enjoy this fascinating book. With YA crossover appeal, the accessible, personal writing sets this book apart.
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