THE FORCE OF A FEATHER: The Search for a Lost Story of Slavery and Freedom

DeEtta Demaratus, Author . Univ. of Utah $27.95 (235p) ISBN 978-0-87480-714-1

Adorning the cover of this book is a photograph of Bridget "Biddy" Mason (1818–1891), leading the reader to anticipate a biography of this remarkable African-American woman, who, as the slave of Robert and Rebecca Smith, made the 2,000-mile Mormon trek from Mississippi to the Salt Lake Valley and across the Mojave Desert to California; who, after a successful writ of habeas corpus (in 1856, a year before the Dred Scott decision), was declared "free forever"; who, as a free woman, moved from midwifery to real estate, accumulating a fortune estimated at $300,000; who was a founder of Los Angeles's first black church, donating the land on which it was built; and who was further distinguished during her lifetime for her charitable enterprises. Demaratus, an independent scholar in Seattle, feels "chosen to pursue" Mason's story, going in search of this woman who "blazed a path meteoric in its significance." Unfortunately, this book reads like a miscellany of information (such as how the papers of the judge who freed Mason found their way to the Bancroft library) marred by speculative flights into "might have, "may have" and "likely." Alternating with the informational chapters is an account of Demaratus's personal quest, which does not take on the weight she intends it to. There being no full-length biography, readers will be grateful for some of the raw material collected here, but the life of Biddy Mason remains to be written. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 04/01/2002
Release date: 03/01/2002
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