All that she carried The journey of Ashley's sack, a Black family keepsake

Tiya Miles, 1970-

Book - 2021

"Sitting in the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture is a rough cotton bag, called "Ashley's Sack," embroidered with just a handful of words that evoke a sweeping family story of loss and of love passed down through generations. In 1850s South Carolina, just before nine-year-old Ashley was sold, her mother, Rose, gave her a sack filled with just a few things as a token of her love. Decades later, Ashley's granddaughter, Ruth, embroid...ered this history on the bag--including Rose's message that "It be filled with my Love always." Historian Tiya Miles carefully follows faint archival traces back to Charleston to find Rose in the kitchen where she may have packed the sack for Ashley. From Rose's last resourceful gift to her daughter, Miles then follows the paths their lives and the lives of so many like them took to write a unique, innovative history of the lived experience of slavery in the United States. The contents of the sack--a tattered dress, handfuls of pecans, a braid of hair, "my Love always"--speak volumes and open up a window on Rose and Ashley's world. As she follows Ashley's journey, Miles metaphorically "unpacks" the sack, deepening its emotional resonance and revealing the meanings and significance of everything it contained. These include the story of enslaved labor's role in the cotton trade and apparel crafts and the rougher cotton "negro cloth" that was left for enslaved people to wear; the role of the pecan in nutrition, survival, and southern culture; the significance of hair to Black women and of locks of hair in the nineteenth century; and an exploration of Black mothers' love and the place of emotion in history"--

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Subjects
Genres
Biographies
Published
New York : Random House [2021]
Edition
First edition
Language
English
Physical Description
xvii, 385 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN
9781984854995
1984854992
Main Author
Tiya Miles, 1970- (author)
  • Introduction: love's practitioners
  • Ruth's record
  • Searching for Rose
  • Packing the sack
  • Rose's inventory
  • The auction block
  • Ashley's seeds
  • The bright unspooling
  • Conclusion: it be filled.
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* All That She Carried is the poignant tale of a family heirloom passed down through generations of Black women. Rose, an enslaved woman in 1850s South Carolina, gave her daughter, Ashley, a sack of some items on the eve of Ashley's sale to a different owner. Rose embroidered it with a message of love that endured. Years later, Ashley's great-granddaughter, Ruth Middleton, added her own words to the heirloom, continuing the chain of the family's history. This volume paints the fascinating history of Ashley's sack in a readable, episodic account that is largely free of stuffy, academic language that often goes with this territory. Award-winning scholar Miles (Tales from the Haunted South, 2015) presents a riveting account of how Ashley's sack was rediscovered and traces Ruth's journey through the Great Migration while exploring the family's lineage. Filled with rare, archival photographs of objects from the era, this volume is a natural choice for book clubs and a must-buy for public and academic libraries alike. The book will also appeal to fans of genealogy television shows such as Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr. Copyright 2021 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

MacArthur fellow Miles (The Dawn of Detroit) unpacks an entire, profoundly moving history from a simple cotton bag known as Ashley's Sack, displayed at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture. In 1850s North Carolina, just before nine-year-old Ashley was sold, her mother gave her the sack, filled with mementos like a braid of hair; this story was embroidered on the bag decades later by Ashley's granddaughter. Copyright 2020 Library Journal.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Miles (history, Harvard Univ.; The Dawn of Detroit) illuminates the lives of three generations of Black American women via a patched and embroidered cotton sack now displayed in the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Rose, an enslaved woman in South Carolina, filled the sack with what provisions and keepsakes she could for her 9-year-old daughter Ashley, who was sold away from her in the 1850s. Years later, Ashley's granddaughter Ruth embroidered a narrative of the family history on the sack. From these small clues, Miles delves into Black Americans' experience of slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow segregation, and the Great Migration. With skillful writing, the author carefully explores South Carolina's history of economic dependence on slavery, and discusses the efforts of enslaved people to obtain sustenance and clothing and maintain family connections. Drawing on scant genealogical records and letters from people who were formerly enslaved, as well as research on ornamentation, Miles creates a moving account of three women whose stories might have otherwise been lost to history. VERDICT Readers interested in often-overlooked lives and experiences, and anyone who cherishes a handcrafted heirloom, will enjoy this fascinating book. With YA crossover appeal, the accessible, personal writing sets this book apart.—Laurie Unger Skinner, Highland Park P.L., IL Copyright 2021 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

MacArthur fellow Miles (The Dawn of Detroit) paints an evocative portrait of slavery and Black family life in this exquisitely crafted history. She frames her account around a cloth sack packed in 1852 by an enslaved woman named Rose for her nine-year-old daughter, Ashley, when the girl was sold to a new master in South Carolina. In 1921, Ashley's granddaughter, Ruth Middleton, embroidered the sack with Rose and Ashley's story, but it fell out of the family's possession and wasn't rediscovered until 2007. Miles pours through South Carolina plantation records to identify Rose and Ashley, and explores the physical and psychological lives of Black women via the original contents of the sack: a tattered dress, three handfuls of pecans, and a braid of Rose's hair. For example, Rose's hair sparks a discussion of how enslaved women with lighter skin tones and longer, smoother locks were targeted for sexual assault by white men and violently punished by white women. Filling gaps in the historical record with the documented experiences of Harriet Jacobs, Elizabeth Keckley, and other enslaved women, Miles brilliantly shows how material items possessed the "ability to house and communicate... emotions like love, values like family, states of being like freedom." This elegant narrative is a treasure trove of insight and emotion. (June) Copyright 2021 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

MacArthur fellow Miles (The Dawn of Detroit) paints an evocative portrait of slavery and Black family life in this exquisitely crafted history. She frames her account around a cloth sack packed in 1852 by an enslaved woman named Rose for her nine-year-old daughter, Ashley, when the girl was sold to a new master in South Carolina. In 1921, Ashley's granddaughter, Ruth Middleton, embroidered the sack with Rose and Ashley's story, but it fell out of the family's possession and wasn't rediscovered until 2007. Miles pours through South Carolina plantation records to identify Rose and Ashley, and explores the physical and psychological lives of Black women via the original contents of the sack: a tattered dress, three handfuls of pecans, and a braid of Rose's hair. For example, Rose's hair sparks a discussion of how enslaved women with lighter skin tones and longer, smoother locks were targeted for sexual assault by white men and violently punished by white women. Filling gaps in the historical record with the documented experiences of Harriet Jacobs, Elizabeth Keckley, and other enslaved women, Miles brilliantly shows how material items possessed the "ability to house and communicate... emotions like love, values like family, states of being like freedom." This elegant narrative is a treasure trove of insight and emotion. (June) Copyright 2021 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

"Sitting in the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture is a rough cotton bag, called "Ashley's Sack," embroidered with just a handful of words that evoke a sweeping family story of loss and of love passed down through generations. In 1850s South Carolina, just before nine-year-old Ashley was sold, her mother, Rose, gave her a sack filled with just a few things as a token of her love. Decades later, Ashley's granddaughter, Ruth, embroidered this history on the bag--includingRose's message that "It be filled with my Love always." Historian Tiya Miles carefully follows faint archival traces back to Charleston to find Rose in the kitchen where she may have packed the sack for Ashley. From Rose's last resourceful gift to her daughter, Miles then follows the paths their lives and the lives of so many like them took to write a unique, innovative history of the lived experience of slavery in the United States. The contents of the sack--a tattered dress, handfuls of pecans, a braidof hair, "my Love always"--speak volumes and open up a window on Rose and Ashley's world. As she follows Ashley's journey, Miles metaphorically "unpacks" the sack, deepening its emotional resonance and revealing the meanings and significance of everything it contained. These include the story of enslaved labor's role in the cotton trade and apparel crafts and the rougher cotton "negro cloth" that was left for enslaved people to wear; the role of the pecan in nutrition, survival, and southern culture; thesignificance of hair to Black women and of locks of hair in the nineteenth century; and an exploration of Black mothers' love and the place of emotion in history"--

Review by Publisher Summary 2

The story of how three generations of Black women have passed down a family treasure—a sack filled with a few precious items given from an enslaved woman to her daughter in 1850s South Carolina.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER • NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A renowned historian traces the life of a single object handed down through three generations of Black women to craft a “deeply layered and insightful” (The Washington Post) testament to people who are left out of the archives. WINNER: PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award, Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, Lawrence W. Levine Award, Darlene Clark Hine Award • ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The Washington Post, Slate, Vulture, Publishers Weekly “A history told with brilliance and tenderness and fearlessness.”—Jill Lepore, author of These Truths: A History of the United States In 1850s South Carolina, an enslaved woman named Rose faced a crisis: the imminent sale of her daughter Ashley. Thinking quickly, she packed a cotton bag for her with a few items, and, soon after, the nine-year-old girl was separated from her mother and sold. Decades later, Ashley’s granddaughter Ruth embroidered this family history on the sack in spare, haunting language.  Historian Tiya Miles carefully traces these women’s faint presence in archival records, and, where archives fall short, she turns to objects, art, and the environment to write a singular history of the experience of slavery, and the uncertain freedom afterward, in the United States. All That She Carried is a poignant story of resilience and love passed down against steep odds. It honors the creativity and resourcefulness of people who preserved family ties when official systems refused to do so, and it serves as a visionary illustration of how to reconstruct and recount their stories today FINALIST: Kirkus Prize, Mark Lynton History Prize • ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The New York Times, NPR, Time, The Boston Globe, The Atlantic, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Smithsonian Magazine, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Ms. magazine, Book Riot, Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Booklist