Slaves in the Family Essay - Critical Essays

Slaves in the Family

In SLAVES IN THE FAMILY, an epic, yet deeply intimate tale encompassing over two hundred and fifty years of history, Edward Ball weaves together the stories of his white slaveholding family and the black slaves who served at their tables and worked their fields. Using archival documents and interviews with the descendants of former Ball slaves, he charts the legacy of his family’s doings from the past into the present, and helps reclaim African ancestral lineages long lost.

Between 1698 (when Edward Ball’s ancestor, Elias “Red Cap” Ball, arrived in the Carolina colony), and emancipation in 1865, almost four thousand black people were purchased by the Balls, or born into slavery on their plantations. Slave labor, capital investment, and the ownership of vast fields of rice made the Balls very wealthy. The family fortune waned with the Civil War, the end of slavery, and the decline of rice as a cash crop in the South.

Delving into his family’s checkered past was a process by which basic tenets of old family lore were shaken at their roots, and replaced with a much more complicated—and inclusive—set of truths. Ball raises hard questions about the use and abuse of power, and the true meanings of brotherhood and family. What he adds to the story are the kinds of things that blacks had known all along, but whites denied. In this way SLAVES IN THE FAMILY is an initiation, for Ball, and for whites, into a fuller story of slavery, and into a world view and consciousness of the past held by blacks. It is a purging and an attempt at fuller honesty, in which Ball seeks, as he explains, not so much responsibility for the sins of the past, but accountability.

Sources for Further Study

The Antioch Review. LVI, Fall, 1998, p. 502.

Booklist. XCIV, February 15, 1998, p. 971.

Jet. XCIII, March 23, 1998, p. 20.

Library Journal. CXXIII, March 15, 1998, p. 80.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. March 22, 1998, p. 7.

The Nation. CCLXVII, September 28, 1998, p. 34.

The New York Times Book Review. CIII, March 1, 1998, p. 7.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLV, January 26, 1998, p. 80.

The Village Voice. March 3, 1998, p. 123.

The Washington Post Book World. XXVIII, February 22, 1998, p. 3.