My Confederate Kinfolk: A Twenty-First Century Freedwoman Discovers Her Roots

Overview

Beloved novelist and playwright Thulani Davis takes a journey through her ancestral history-and finds tartan plaid, unlikely lovers, and Confederate soldiers

Starting with a photograph and some writings left by her grandmother, Thulani Davis goes looking for the "white folk" in her family-a Scots-Irish family of cotton planters unknown to her-and uncovers a history far richer and stranger than she had ever imagined.

When Davis's grandmother ...

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My Confederate Kinfolk: A Twenty-First Century Freedwoman Discovers Her Roots

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Overview

Beloved novelist and playwright Thulani Davis takes a journey through her ancestral history-and finds tartan plaid, unlikely lovers, and Confederate soldiers

Starting with a photograph and some writings left by her grandmother, Thulani Davis goes looking for the "white folk" in her family-a Scots-Irish family of cotton planters unknown to her-and uncovers a history far richer and stranger than she had ever imagined.

When Davis's grandmother died in 1971, she was writing a novel about her parents, Mississippi cotton farmers who met after the Civil War: Chloe Curry, a former slave from Alabama, married with several children, and Will Campbell, a white planter from Missouri who had never married.

In this compelling intersection of genealogy, memoir, and Reconstruction history, Davis picks up where her grandmother left off. Her journey takes her from Missouri to Mississippi to Alabama, back to her home town in Virginia, and even to Sierra Leone. The Campbells lead her to locate not only their pioneer history but to find the previously unknown roots of her mother's family; to Civil War archives, where she discovers the records of the Campbells who fought with Confederate troops; to the Silver Creek plantation in Yazoo, Mississippi, where the two branches of her family history became one; and to a county near her Virginia hometown where both families started their American journey, completely unknown to each other.

My Confederate Kinfolk examines the origins of some of our most deeply ingrained notions about what makes a family black or white and offers an immensely compelling, intellectually challenging alternative.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Soon after former slave Chloe Curry began working as a cook in the Mississippi home of Will Campbell, a former slave-owner, she became pregnant with his child. "She stayed with Will Campbell the rest of his life. And he kept her in his home the rest of his life. With this fact in mind, I can only assume a genuine affection of some depth developed between these two people." In this family history, Chloe and Will's great-granddaughter tries to make sense of their relationship in the context of Reconstruction and its failures. Unfortunately, however, Chloe and Will's 19th-century story, with all of its insights into a larger American history, does not fully emerge until the middle of the book. Descriptions of the author's writer's block, her research difficulties and her anger about the neglect of African-American history bog down the early chapters. Yet Davis (Maker of Saints) succeeds in conveying the precarious position of blacks in the South after the Civil War and her final chapter on the great Mississippi flood of 1927, in which "the lives of blacks were harder hit than others," has eerie parallels with the post-hurricane flooding of New Orleans-just one example of how important it is to understand this period in our common past. (Jan) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In 1971, pursuing the story of her dying grandmother's black mother and white father who came together in post-Civil War Mississippi, the poet, playwright, novelist, and journalist Davis entered on a journey to her own identity. This book traces her travels along a family tree that branched into places she feared to look or never imagined. She discovered not only her black roots in muddy Mississippi's cotton slave hands but also in whites riding to war to save slavery. She discovered sometimes imperceptible lines between black and white, friend and foe, slaveholder and slave. She reached kinfolk in the Caribbean and in Africa itself, locating tribal Temne forebears in Sierra Leone. Retracing the steps of her people with anecdotal particulars, Davis details an epic that moves from African Middle Passage in the 1700s to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Her very personal story opens poignant perspectives on an American past where identity was both more and less than black-and-white. Recommended for collections on autobiography and African American, Southern, and U.S. history.-Thomas J. Davis, Arizona State Univ., Tempe Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An African-American turns to genealogy to plumb the lives and times of her white Southern forebears during the Civil War and Reconstruction. In presenting the results of exhaustive personal research into a racially mixed branch of her family tree, playwright and novelist Davis (Maker of Saints, 1996, etc.) emphasizes that her findings are hardly unique. Any African-American with kin "from the South or West way back when," she asserts, "is likely to have family ties-black and white-to the founders of the country [as well as] the American system of bondage." In telling the story of her search for ancestors that began with old letters, the writings of her grandmother and a strange photograph of a black child of the 19th century completely decked out in authentic tartan plaid, Davis also documents the condition of blacks making the transition from bondage to Emancipation as "freedmen and freedwomen." (Her use of the term and its application to herself intimate that the transition is ongoing.) The story centers on the encounter in the 1870s between her African-American great-grandmother, Chloe Curry, and Will Campbell, scion of an influential white cotton-planting clan with proud Scottish roots (refugees, in fact, from the horrors of guerilla-style terrorism in Civil War Missouri). The evolution of that relationship from household employment to lifelong companionship (they never married) takes place against the cataclysmic background of failed Reconstruction in Mississippi's Yazoo County. Burnings, shootings, lynchings and rapes were exacted against blacks who voted against the "redeeming" white supremacist ticket. The author reacts variously with shock, sarcasm and occasional vituperation asinjustices surface in her research, forcing her to embrace her African heritage with vigor. Polemics overlaid on personal history-reader affinity required.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465015559
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 1/2/2006
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.62 (h) x 1.08 (d)

Meet the Author

Thulani Davis is a poet, novelist, journalist, playwright, and librettist. Among her work are two novels, 1959 and Maker of Saints; several plays, including Everybody’s Ruby, which premiered at the NY Shakespeare Public Festival, and the librettos for Amistad and Malcolm X. She is also the author of two collections of poetry and two PBS documentaries, and has published in numerous magazines and journals. She lives in New York City.

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Table of Contents

1 Twenty-first century freedwoman : fitting two families into history 1
2 Silver Creek, Mississippi, ca. 1875 : Chole Tarrant Curry comes to work at the Campbell Plantation 15
3 Clay pots and a tiger's tooth (1850-1861) : where Chloe came from 43
4 Horses at the door (1852-1861) : where Will came from 69
5 Behind Confederate lines (1861-1863) : the scattered Campbells go to war 95
6 War from on the road (1863-1865) : fighting emancipation, black soldiers, and personal loss 127
7 "They still shoot Negroes" (1865-1868) : in Alabama and Mississippi after the war 159
8 Silver Creek (1868-1878) : Chloe leaves terror in Alabama for Mississippi 195
9 Colonel Campbell's constituents : the heroes and villains of a violent election 227
10 High water (1880-1932) : Chloe and Will and life in Yazoo 239
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 11, 2007

    a page-turner...

    This is a beautiful book to have to read to loan to keep. It is really a page-turner. This author has a way....the story is compelling and because it's real, and yet has some of the exciting qualities of a fictional story...it really gripped me. Important history, and personal, and oh so readable. a great writer, great book.

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