A deep dive into the extraordinary risks faced by free blacks in the antebellum era.

STOLEN

FIVE FREE BOYS KIDNAPPED INTO SLAVERY AND THEIR ASTONISHING ODYSSEY HOME

A historian tells the harrowing story of five free black boys kidnapped in Philadelphia by a brutal gang who hoped to sell them into slavery.

After the United States outlawed the importing of slaves in 1808, black residents of free states like Pennsylvania lived in dread of kidnappers who hoped to sell them in the labor-deprived South. Bell (Early American History/Univ. of Maryland; We Shall Be No More: Suicide and Self-Government in the Newly United States, 2012) brings their terrors to life as he reconstructs this little-known episode in American history. The author focuses on five boys lured onto a ship on the Philadelphia waterfront in 1825 by a criminal gang led by Joseph Johnson, whose accomplices included his brother and sister-in-law, Ebenezer and Sally Johnson. Newlyweds Ebenezer and Sally took the boys on a horrific journey by foot and wagon toward the slave market in Natchez, Mississippi, that soon went awry. Ebenezer sold one boy in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, when cash ran low and beat another so savagely he died on the trip. The three remaining boys, desperate but alert, caught a break when one ran away and told his story to a sympathetic Mississippi cotton planter. That encounter set in motion near-miraculous events involving heroic acts by the planter and his lawyer and Joseph Watson, the mayor of Philadelphia, all determined to return the boys to the city and to freedom. Tapping rich archival sources, Bell overreaches only when he strains to portray criminals like the Johnson gang as a “Reverse Underground Railroad,” drawing oversimplified parallels between people like Harriet Tubman, a “conductor” on that storied network, and murderous thugs like Ebenezer, whom he casts as “a conductor” on its evil twin. His book—more comprehensive than Solomon Northup’s memoir of his own kidnapping, Twelve Years a Slave—needed no such distracting comparisons to deserve wide attention. Ultimately, Bell offers a well-told story of brave, abducted boys—and the equally brave adults who fought for them—slightly undercut by its aggressive casting of Underground Railroad workers and kidnappers of free blacks as mirror images of one another.

A deep dive into the extraordinary risks faced by free blacks in the antebellum era.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6943-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: 37 Ink/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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

NIGHT

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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However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS

Maya Angelou is a natural writer with an inordinate sense of life and she has written an exceptional autobiographical narrative which retrieves her first sixteen years from "the general darkness just beyond the great blinkers of childhood."

Her story is told in scenes, ineluctably moving scenes, from the time when she and her brother were sent by her fancy living parents to Stamps, Arkansas, and a grandmother who had the local Store. Displaced they were and "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." But alternating with all the pain and terror (her rape at the age of eight when in St. Louis With her mother) and humiliation (a brief spell in the kitchen of a white woman who refused to remember her name) and fear (of a lynching—and the time they buried afflicted Uncle Willie under a blanket of vegetables) as well as all the unanswered and unanswerable questions, there are affirmative memories and moments: her charming brother Bailey; her own "unshakable God"; a revival meeting in a tent; her 8th grade graduation; and at the end, when she's sixteen, the birth of a baby. Times When as she says "It seemed that the peace of a day's ending was an assurance that the covenant God made with children, Negroes and the crippled was still in effect."

However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1969

ISBN: 0375507892

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1969

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