Sapelo's People: A Long Walk into Freedom

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In this moving and original work, William S. McFeely, one of this country's most distinguished historians, retells the history—and enters into the current-day lives—of the people who inhabit Sapelo's Island off the coast of Georgia, descendants of slaves who once worked its huge cotton plantations. It is at once a richly detailed work of historical reconstruction, a sensitive portrait of the lives of black Americans in this particular place and in our own time, and a moving meditation on race by a writer who has ...

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Overview

In this moving and original work, William S. McFeely, one of this country's most distinguished historians, retells the history—and enters into the current-day lives—of the people who inhabit Sapelo's Island off the coast of Georgia, descendants of slaves who once worked its huge cotton plantations. It is at once a richly detailed work of historical reconstruction, a sensitive portrait of the lives of black Americans in this particular place and in our own time, and a moving meditation on race by a writer who has made its painful dilemmas his life's work as a historian.

McFeely retells the history--and enters the current-day lives--of the people who inhabit Sapelo's Island off the coast of Georgia, descendants of slaves who once worked its plantations. It is a richly detailed work of historical reconstruction, a sensitive portrait of black Americans in this place and in our own time, and a moving meditation on race.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
At the start of the Civil War, several thousand slaves worked the vast plantation on the barrier island of Sapelo, which lies off the southern coast of Georgia. When the island became part of the plan to blockade Savannah, some slaves escaped to join the Union army; hundreds more were moved inland by their owner. Freed in 1863, many returned to the only home they knew and, with government land grants, resettled Sapelo. By 1865 they had a school; in 1866, a church; in 1867 the men voted. Today, 67 of their remaining descendants still own the land. War historian McFeeley Grant and Frederick Douglass uses scraps of oral history from these offspring and his own research to trace their origin back to Africa. He reconstructs their forebears' capture, delivery to the Bahamas and sale to the Sapelo plantation owner, and re-creates the character of their male progenitor, a powerful, literate African Muslim who became virtual manager of the plantation. McFeely identifies some puzzling language patterns with Arabic and retells Sherman's March to the sea by tracing its impact on the lives of Sapelo's slaves and present-day descendants. An enthralling account. June
Library Journal
Civil War historian McFeely has long been drawn to Sapelo Island, Georgia, whose residents are descended from slaves brought there in the 19th century. Though he has written acclaimed works on great men e.g., the Pulitzer Prize-winning Grant, LJ 2/15/81; Frederick Douglass, LJ 2/1/91, he yearned ``to know the slaves and freed people-and their descendants-with whom I share an American history.'' McFeely blends creative writing, oral tradition, and historiography to do more than narrate a saga of residents on a sea island. He offers a meditation on race as he looks at the lives of an island's people. With McFeely's introduction, we come to know the people and the ancestors of this distinct community. Recommended for all collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/15/94.]-Kathleen E. Bethel, Northwestern Univ. Lib., Evanston, Ill.
Gilbert Taylor
Sapelo, one of the barrier islands along the southeast coast of the U.S., is inhabited by only 67 people, all descended from enslaved black Africans. Their forebears worked a plantation on the island, a situation ripe for an inquiry into the mystic chords of memory linking the antebellum South with the present, and McFeely, the definitive biographer of Ulysses S. Grant and Frederick Douglass, rises to the occasion. He returns us to 1802, when a man named Bilali was taken from Guinea and bought by Thomas Spalding, Sapelo's slaveholding baron. McFeely sorts the records, including Bilali's memoirs, and encapsulates the local upheavals wrought by war, emancipation, reconstruction, the reassertion of white control by Spalding's widow--and, not least, hurricanes. No boring sociological tract, this warm visit with the people who now live there, who assemble in Sunday best at the First African Baptist Church a paradox since Bilali was a Muslim, is a special addition to the painful saga of race relations in this country.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393036435
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 7/28/1994
  • Edition description: 1st ed
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 160
  • Product dimensions: 5.23 (w) x 8.32 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Meet the Author

William S. McFeely, the Abraham Baldwin Professor of the Humanities, Emeritus, at the University of Georgia, is the author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning biography Grant. He lives in Wellfleet and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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