cover image Liberty Street: A Savannah Family, Its Golden Boy, and the Civil War

Liberty Street: A Savannah Family, Its Golden Boy, and the Civil War

Jason K. Friedman. Univ. of South Carolina, $26.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-64336-469-8

In this meticulous account, short story writer Friedman (Fire Year) pieces together the complicated history of a Jewish family in the antebellum South. After moving into an apartment in the Cohen family’s former home in Savannah, Ga., Friedman started sifting through archival research and soon uncovered a family portrait teeming with hypocrisies: owners Miriam and Solomon Cohen were well-educated and active in their religious and social communities; they were also enslavers and vocal advocates for secession. After analyzing the Cohens’ bizarre religious rationales for slavery and their attempts to “pretty up” its horrors with their wealth, Friedman shifts his focus to Miriam and Solomon’s son Gratz, and the possibility that he was in love with Louis, a Black valet enslaved by the family. It’s a tantalizing question: did Gratz, who was born in 1844 and fatally wounded in 1865 while serving as aide-de-camp to Confederate general George Harrison, spend his brief life struggling with both his Jewish identity and his romantic desire for men? Mining the admittedly sparse information available—particularly a diary filled with Gratz’s odes to Louis—Friedman sensitively explores this question while providing background on the ugly legacy of Savannah’s slaveholding past. It’s a revealing prism through which to examine a dark period of American history. (Apr.)