cover image All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake

All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake

Tiya Miles. Random House, $28 (416p) ISBN 978-1-984854-99-5

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)