The true story of William “Bill” Lewis, a man born into slavery who wouldn’t rest until his whole family was free.
Bill and his family were enslaved in Tennessee, where they worked long days in Col. Lewis’ fields. Bill was a young boy when Col. Lewis decided to make him a blacksmith, and Bill became very good at it. Col. Lewis rented him out, a common practice, and started letting Bill keep some of the money. Bill saved his coins and decided to ask Col. Lewis to let him rent himself. Col. Lewis agreed, for a large yearly fee. Bill paid the fee and opened his own blacksmith shop, becoming the first African-American blacksmith in Chattanooga. He worked long days and saved his money, with a goal in mind. Over time, he bought his wife’s freedom, and then their son’s, and then, one by one, the rest of his family’s. The text skillfully includes details about laws governing the lives of enslaved people (Bill travels with a white escort; he buys his wife’s freedom first so that their future children will be born free) while keeping readers hooked through every step of Bill’s plan. Rich illustrations help readers imagine life in the 1800s and show the complexity of Bill’s situation. Readers will root for Bill to the utterly satisfying end.
Powerful and uplifting; William Lewis should be a household name. (afterword, sources) (Picture book/biography. 5-9)