A well-written, noteworthy contribution to African-American history.




An illuminating account of the free “Afro-Virginians” who lived and worked in a society and economy dominated by slavery.

“I tremble for my country,” Thomas Jefferson famously remark, “when I reflect that God is just.” Jefferson’s cousin Richard Randolph felt much the same way, and before he died in 1796 he left instructions to emancipate his slaves, begging their forgiveness for his part in the “infamous practice of usurping the rights of our fellow creatures, equally entituled [sic] with ourselves to the enjoyment of Liberty and happiness.” Randolph was not the only emancipator of his day and place, writes Ely (History and Black Studies/College of William and Mary; The Adventures of Amos ’n’ Andy, 1991). Indeed, freed slaves such as Sam White were unusual but not rare; Ely notes that one in eight black Virginians were free in the generation before the Civil War. Ely traces the histories of Sam White, Syphax Brown, Hercules White, Billy Ellis, and their descendants, who banded together to buy and hold the rich farmlands of Israel Hill in Prince Edward Country, then as now a fertile breadbasket. As well as agriculture, they engaged in many trades, including transport, brickmaking, masonry, and carpentry; for, as Ely notes, “paradoxically, to defend and enhance their independence, free blacks had to assert their rights within the white-run institutions under which they lived—and they had to take part in the local economy.” In time they came to form an important part of Virginia’s skilled workforce, laboring alongside whites and usually receiving equal pay. Though their existence in a slaveholding “society whose infinite capacity to oppress differentiates it utterly from our own” was fraught with tension and, Ely warns, can hardly be characterized as friendly, particularly as the Civil War loomed, these free communities and people endured in Virginia, with many of their descendants becoming important figures in the post–Civil War era.

A well-written, noteworthy contribution to African-American history.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2004

ISBN: 0-679-44738-5

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2004

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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