Sweet Taste of Liberty: A True Story of Slavery and Restitution in America

W. Caleb McDaniel. Oxford Univ, $27.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-19-084699-2
In this gripping study, Rice University historian McDaniel recounts the painful but triumphant story of one enslaved woman’s long fight for justice. Henrietta Wood, born into bondage, was freed by her owner in 1848. Seven years later, she was kidnapped and reenslaved by Kentucky horse breeder Zebulon Ward, and did not regain her freedom until the end of the Civil War. Wood was determined to gain compensation for her additional years of servitude and for the fact that her son Arthur had been born into slavery, and sued Ward in 1868. Nearly a decade later, Wood was victorious; although the $2,500 in damages the court awarded her were far less than she had requested, the funds, “the largest known [amount] ever awarded by a U.S. court in restitution for slavery,” helped to establish Arthur as a lawyer in Chicago. The two extensive interviews Wood gave to reporters during her lawsuit illuminate her remarkable life. Nearly a century after Wood’s lawsuit, McDaniel recounts, Martin Luther King warned his supporters that the civil rights project would remain incomplete until African-Americans gained economic as well as political equality, and that any such improvements must be “demanded by the oppressed.” McDaniel tells this story engrossingly and accessibly. This is a valuable contribution to Reconstruction history with clear relevance to current debates about reparations for slavery. Photos. (Sept.)
Reviewed on : 06/24/2019
Release date: 09/01/2019
Genre: Nonfiction
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