Many Thousand Gone: African Americans from Slavery to Freedom


Unavailable for several years, Virginia Hamilton’s award-winning companion to The People Could Fly traces the history of slavery in America in the voices and stories of those who lived it. Leo and Diane Dillon’s brilliant black-and-white illustrations echo the stories’ subtlety and power, making this book as stunning to look at as it is to read.

“There is probably no better way to convey the meaning of the institution of slavery as it existed ...

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Unavailable for several years, Virginia Hamilton’s award-winning companion to The People Could Fly traces the history of slavery in America in the voices and stories of those who lived it. Leo and Diane Dillon’s brilliant black-and-white illustrations echo the stories’ subtlety and power, making this book as stunning to look at as it is to read.

“There is probably no better way to convey the meaning of the institution of slavery as it existed in the United States to young readers than by using, as a text to share and discuss, Many Thousand Gone.”
The New York Times Book Review

Recounts the journey of Black slaves to freedom via the underground railroad, an extended group of people who helped fugitive slaves in many ways.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Hamilton is neither sensational nor sentimental, even as she celebrates the many acts of shining courage. This makes us all want to know more, much more, about those many thousand gone."—(starred) Booklist.

"A compelling book, outstanding in every way."—(pointer) Kirkus.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The inspired pairing of this Newbery winner and these two-time Caldecott recipients has yielded a heartfelt and ultimately heartening chronicle of African Americans from the earliest days of slavery to the 1865 ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery in this country. Made up of succinct yet compelling profiles of celebrated and lesser-known individuals, Hamilton's narrative deftly peels back time's layers and lends an unusual immediacy to this critical chapter in American history. In brief, chronologically arranged entries that even reluctant readers will find easy to absorb, the author first offers accounts of slaves in the pre-Revolutionary War era, many of whom were taken from their homes in Africa and sold to slave traders. Included are descriptions of the appalling shipboard conditions during the ``middle passage'' from Africa to America, which a shocking 30% of the ill-treated passengers did not survive. Hamilton neatly condenses the tales of such notable freedom crusaders as Gabriel Prosser, the Virginia slave who was hanged for organizing a failed revolt in 1800; Tice Davids, allegedly the first slave to escape by traveling the ``underground road'' from Kentucky to Ohio; passionate abolitionists Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass; and Harriet Tubman, the former slave who made more than 20 journeys back to the South to lead others to freedom. Hamilton's account takes note of the legislation passed by the federal government over the years--both protective of and damaging to the rights of African Americans. Her final reference, however, is optimistic, if somewhat oversimplified. She writes that after the Civil War, African Americans ``were able to find the best in life,'' including seeking education, finding jobs, owning land and living together as families. She concludes: ``They did all of these things almost as soon as the war was over. For 125 years they have continued to do so.'' Throughout the volume, the Dillons' dramatic, full-page, black-and-white art offers stunning portraits of the individuals profiled, poignantly conveying their anguish, determination and hope. A Children's BOMC selection. Ages 9-14. (Feb.) .
Children's Literature - Debra Briatico
This groundbreaking work traces the history of slavery in America from the earliest slave trading to the Emancipation Proclamation and the growth of the Underground Railroad. The author presents personal accounts and individual profiles of well-known figures such as Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Frederick Douglass and other lesser-known slaves such as Henry Box Brown, Jackson and Eliza.
School Library Journal
Gr 4-9-- From the beginning of slavery in America to the end of the Civil War, hundreds of thousands of slaves escaped to freedom in the Northern U. S. and Canada. Their struggle, as well as the struggle of those who failed and those who were once free and then captured into slavery, comprises the theme of this history. Hamilton offers brief vignettes of almost three dozen figures. Among them are a prince lured to a neighboring kingdom and sold into slavery and a desperate mother whose escape over an icy river inspired a scene in Uncle Tom's Cabin . Well-known figures are included, as are such lesser-known people as Henry Box Brown, who had a sympathetic carpenter nail him into a box and mail him North; or Tice Davids, whose escape in 1831 led to the coining of the term ``underground road.'' Although the emphasis is on African-American figures, biographies of whites who risked prison to help slaves to freedom are also included. The vignettes are lively, readable, and written with a poetic flair that distinguishes this book from most collective biographies for this age range. All of the stories shed a different light upon Hamilton's themes and the factual information she presents as an introduction to each theme. Her research is impeccable. The Dillons' black-and-white illustrations are refreshingly original, conveying the emotion and drama of the experiences described; text and visuals combine to create a powerful and moving whole. Reluctant readers and those with little prior knowledge will find this book unusually approachable with its short chapters, lively writing, and ample white space. --Lyn Miller-Lachmann, Siena College Library, Loudonville, NY
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679879367
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 1/28/2002
  • Pages: 160
  • Sales rank: 542,903
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 8.15 (w) x 9.98 (h) x 0.51 (d)

Meet the Author

Virginia Hamilton

Virginia Hamilton, storyteller, lecturer, and biographer, was born and raised in Yellow Springs, OH, which is said to be a station on the Underground Railroad. Her grandfather settled in the village after escaping slavery in Virginia. She was educated at Antioch College and Ohio State University and did further study in literature and the novel at the New School for Social Research. Virginia was the first African American woman to win the Newbery Award, for M.C. Higgins the Great. Since then, she has won three Newbery Honors and three Coretta Scott King Awards. In 1992, Virginia was awarded the Hans Christian Andersen Medal, which is presented every two years by the International Board on Books for Young People, in recognition of her entire body of work. Virginia writes first for the pleasure of using words and language to evoke characters and their world, and in historical accounts such as Anthony Burns, the lives of real people. Secondly, Hamilton writes to entertain, to inspire in people the desire to read on and on good books made especially for them.

Leo and Diane Dillon have twice won the Caldecott Medal


A writer of prodigious gifts, Virginia Hamilton forged a new kind of juvenile fiction by twining African-American and Native American history and folklore with contemporary stories and plotlines.

With Hamilton's first novel, Zeely, the story of a young farm girl who fantasizes that a woman she knows is a Watusi queen, she set the bar high. The book won a American Library Association Notable Children's Book citation. Hamilton rose to her own challenge, and every new book she published enriched American literature to such a degree that in 1995 she was awarded the ALA's Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for lifetime achievement.

Born in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and raised in an extended family of farmers and storytellers (her own father was a musician), Hamilton's work was inspired by her childhood experiences, family mythology, and Ohio River Valley homeland. In an article about the importance of libraries in children's lives, she credits her mother and the "story lady" at her childhood public library with opening her mind to the world of books.

Although she spent time in New York City working as a bookkeeper after college, and traveled widely in Africa and Europe, Hamilton spent most of her life in Yellow Springs, anchored by the language, geography, and culture of southern Ohio. In The House of Dies Drear, she arranged her story around the secrets of the Underground Railroad. In M. C. Higgins, the Great, winner of both a John Newbery Medal and a National Book Award, she chronicled the struggles of a family whose land, and life spirit, is threatened by strip mining. Publishers Weekly called the novel "one of those rare books which draws the reader in with the first paragraph and keeps him or her turning the page until the end."

In her series of folk-tale collections, including The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales, In the Beginning: Creation Stories from Around the World, and Her Stories: African American Folktales, Fairy Tales, and True Tales, Hamilton salvaged and burnished folk tales from cultures across the world for her stories; stories that suffused her fiction with its extraordinary blend of worldly and otherworldly events, enchantment, and modern reality. Virginia Hamilton died on February 19, 2002.

Good To Know

Hamilton's first research trip to a library was to find out more about her family's exotic chickens, which her mother called "rainbow layers," because of the many tints of the eggs they laid.

In 1995, Hamilton became the first children's writer to win a John D. and Catherine C. MacArthur "genius" grant.

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    1. Date of Birth:
      March 12, 1936
    2. Place of Birth:
      Yellow Springs, Ohio
    1. Date of Death:
      February 19, 2002
    2. Place of Death:
      Yellow Springs, Ohio
    1. Education:
      Attended Antioch College, Ohio State University, and the New School for Social Research
    2. Website:

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