Slaves in the Family
|Publisher:||Farrar Straus & Giroux|
First-time author and award-winning journalist Edward Ball confronts the legacy of his family’s slave-owning past, uncovering the story of the people, both black and white, who lived and worked on the Balls’ South Carolina plantations. It is an unprecedented family record that reveals how the painful legacy of slavery continues to endure in America’s collective memory and experience.
Author Edward Ball, a descendant of one of the largest slave-owning families in the South, discovered that his ancestors owned 25 rice plantations, worked by nearly 4,000 slaves. In Slaves in the Family, he confronts his past—scouring family archives, parish records, telephone directories, and historical-society collections. Ball’s fact-finding took him slogging not only down the back roads of Carolina’s low country but also to West Africa to meet the descendants of the traders who sold slaves to the family.
Through meticulous research and by interviewing scattered relatives, Ball contacted some 100,000 African-Americans living in the U.S. today who are all descendants of Ball slaves. In intimate conversations with them, he garnered information, hard words, and devastating family stories of precisely what it means to be enslaved. He found that the family plantation owners were far from benevolent patriarchs; instead there is a dark history of exploitation, interbreeding, and extreme violence against the slaves.
Slaves in the Family is an extraordinary and poignant account of interwoven lives and one man’s effort to come to terms with his disturbing family legacy and his nation’s past.
Writer Edward Ball opens Slaves in the Family with an anecdote: “My father had a little joke that made light of our legacy as a family that had once owned slaves. ‘There are five things we don’t talk about in the Ball family,’ he would say. ‘Religion, sex, death, money and the Negroes.’” Ball himself seemed happy enough to avoid these touchy issues until an invitation to a family reunion in South Carolina piqued his interest in his family’s extensive plantation and slave-holding past. He realized that he had a very clear idea of who his white ancestors were—their names, who their children and children’s children were, even portraits and photographs—but he had only a murky vision of the black people who supported their livelihood and were such an intimate part of their daily lives; he knew neither their names nor what happened to them and their descendents after they were freed following the Civil War. So he embarked on a journey to uncover the history of the Balls and the black families with whom their lives were inextricably intertwined, as well as the less tangible resonance of slavery in both sets of families. From plantation records, interviews with descendents of both the Balls and their slaves, and travels to Africa and the American South, Ball has constructed a story of the riches and squalor, violence and insurrection—the pride and shame—that make up the history and legacy of slavery in America.