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Alford is a young historian who has documented and skillfully presented the story of a man unique among slaves. Ibrahima was the son of a king of prosperous cattle-raising people in an Islamic area of West Africa. During a war, he was captured and sold to English slave traders, and spent the next 40 years of his life as the property of a Natchez planter. But Ibrahima never forgot his homeland or rank, and was impelled toward freedom by an uncanny meeting: he was embraced by a white man who had known him while a guest of his father's in Africa. The struggle for manumission involved a large and varied cast from eccentric territorial newspapermen to President Adams. Natchez whites had always felt that Ibrahima was remarkable for his integrity and dignity, and took up a collection to purchase his freedom. After a northern tour sponsored by abolitionists rafted to raise sufficient money to purchase his children, Ibrahima set sail for Liberia, where he died in 1829. Working from accounts of Ibrahima's own testimony and from surprisingly extensive primary documents (including newspaper reports and ships' records), Alford has painstakingly reconstructed Ibrahima's narration and intelligently corroborated speculative matters. Unlike Roots, there is no iconography or romance in the text. Africa was not isolated in the 18th century and it is illuminating to learn what was known of events in Europe and in other parts of Africa. More than a saga of Ibrahima's life from battlefield, slave ship, and plantation adjustment to liberty, this work also provides some insight into the culture and social context of Ibrahima's Africa, the slave trade, King Cotton's rise, and the growing slavery debate. Evocative portraits add to the interest. A deeply felt biography that explains some of slavery's psychological burdens without the smoke of polemic.

Pub Date: Nov. 29th, 1977
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich