176 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 40 illus., 1 fig., bibl.
Chapel Hill Books
Recovering a Lost Heritage
In 1860, Somerset Place was one of the most successful plantations in North Carolina--and its owner one of the largest slaveholders in the state. More than 300 slaves worked the plantation's fields at the height of its prosperity; but nearly 125 years later, the only remembrance of their lives at Somerset, now a state historic site, was a lonely wooden sign marked "Site of Slave Quarters."
Somerset Homecoming, first published in 1989, is the story of one woman's unflagging efforts to recover the history of her ancestors, slaves who had lived and worked at Somerset Place. Traveling down winding southern roads, through county courthouses and state archives, and onto the front porches of people willing to share tales handed down through generations, Dorothy Spruill Redford spent ten years tracing the lives of Somerset's slaves and their descendants. Her endeavors culminated in the joyous, nationally publicized homecoming she organized that brought together more than 2,000 descendants of the plantation's slaves and owners and marked the beginning of a campaign to turn Somerset Place into a remarkable resource for learning about the history of both African Americans and whites in the region.
"This is a compelling book, made notable by the author's intensely personal struggle to confront the past that was, for much of her life, something that she once felt 'no longer mattered'. . . . A fine book that serves as a reminder of how important it is to reach for your heritage."
"[Redford] tells the story--and it is a fascinating one--with charm and good humor."
"The moving story of how one black woman, inspired by Alex Haley's Roots, discovered her family's heritage. . . . As much about a remarkable woman as about an American people."
--New York Times Book Review
"The book skillfully weaves Redford's first-person remembrances of her immediate family into the fabric of her investigations. . . . It makes fascinating reading, thanks not only to the engrossing subject but also to a finely tuned, appealing style. . . . One of the more insightful and compelling histories of any search for family."
"There are moments of drama, high humor and sorrow in Redford's odyssey. It's a joy to share her triumph at identifying her forebears, then bringing together 2000 of their descendants."
"Dorothy's study is the best, most beautifully researched, and most thoroughly presented black family history that I know of. . . . I don't believe I could imagine a better answer to the prayers of her relatives' foreparents--of all our foreparents--than what she has brought together and created at Somerset Place and the story she tells in these pages. . . . It is all our stories."
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