When Ancestry Search Led To Escaped Slave: ‘All I Could Do Was Weep’

Posted in Articles, Audio, Autobiography, Biography, History, Interviews, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2016-01-19 02:13Z by Steven

When Ancestry Search Led To Escaped Slave: ‘All I Could Do Was Weep’

Fresh Air (From WHYY in Philadelphia)
National Public Radio

Terry Gross, Host

When she was in fifth grade, Regina Mason received a school assignment that would change her life: to connect with her country of origin. That night, she went home and asked her mother where they were from.

“She told me about her grandfather who was a former slave,” Mason tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. “And that blew me away, because I’m thinking, ‘Slavery was like biblical times. It wasn’t just a few generations removed.’ ”

But for Mason, slavery was a few generations removed. She would later learn that her great-great-great-grandfather, a man named William Grimes, had been a runaway slave, and that he had authored what is now considered to be the first fugitive slave narrative.

“William Grimes’ narrative is precedent-setting,” Mason says. “[It] was published in 1825, and this was years before the abolitionist movement picked up slave narrative as a propaganda tool to end slavery. It sort of unwittingly paved the way for the American slave narrative to follow.”

Grimes’ original narrative tells the story of his 30 years spent in captivity, followed by his escape in 1814 from Savannah, Ga. He describes how his former owner discovered his whereabouts after the escape and forced him to give up his house in exchange for his freedom. (An updated version, published in 1855, includes a chapter about Grimes’ later life in poverty.)

Life of William Grimes, the Runaway Slave was again republished in 2008 by Oxford University Press. The latest edition was edited by Mason and William Andrews, a scholar of early African-American autobiography…

…Interview Highlights

On learning from her mother that her ancestors had been slaves

She talked about Grandpa Fuller, who was a mulatto slave. And I inquired about his parentage and she told me that his father, from what she knew, was a plantation owner, and his mother was an enslaved black woman. …

And I’m asking, “Well, that’s weird. Did his father own him?” … I mean, how do you explain … to children that slavery existed in freedom-loving America, No. 1; and No. 2, how do you explain to a child about an enslaved heritage shrouded in miscegenation? It’s not an easy thing to do…

Read the story highlights here. Listen to the interview (00:35:55) here. Download the interview here.

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Life of William Grimes, the Runaway Slave

Posted in Autobiography, Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Slavery, United States on 2016-01-19 02:02Z by Steven

Life of William Grimes, the Runaway Slave

Oxford University Press
192 pages
21 illus.
5 1/2 X 8 1/4 inches
Hardcover ISBN: 9780195343311
Paperback ISBN: 9780195343328

William L. Andrews, E. Maynard Adams Professor of English; Senior Associate Dean for Fine Arts and Humanities
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Regina E. Mason, Grimes’s great-great-great-granddaughter

  • The first fugitive slave narrative in American history
  • A candid, unfiltered, and fully authenticated account of both slavery and so-called freedom in the antebellum U.S. before the advent of the American antislavery movement
  • A unprecedented editorial partnership blending scholarship and family history to yield a unique modern edition of a neglected classic of antislavery literature
  • No other slave narrative has been recovered, researched, and annotated by a slave’s descendent until now

Life of William Grimes, the Runaway Slave is the first fugitive slave narrative in American history. Because Grimes wrote and published his narrative on his own, without deference to white editors, publishers, or sponsors, his Life has an immediacy, candor, and no-holds-barred realism unparalleled in the famous antebellum slave narratives of the period. This edition of Grimes’s autobiography represents a historic partnership between noted scholar of the African American slave narrative, William L. Andrews, and Regina Mason, Grimes’s great-great-great-granddaughter. Their extensive historical and genealogical research has produced an authoritative, copiously annotated text that features pages from an original Grimes family Bible, transcriptions of the 1824 correspondence that set the terms for the author’s self-purchase in Connecticut (nine years after his escape from Savannah, Georgia), and many other striking images that invoke the life and times of William Grimes.

Table of Contents

  • List of Illustrations
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction by William L. Andrews
  • Life of William Grimes, the Runaway Slave
  • Chronology: the life and times of William Grimes
  • Afterword by Regina E. Mason
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Conjure Tales and Stories of the Color Line: Collected Stories

Posted in Books, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Novels, Passing, United States on 2012-03-25 19:24Z by Steven

Conjure Tales and Stories of the Color Line: Collected Stories

Penguin Classics
June 2000
304 pages
5.23 x 7.59in
Paperback ISBN: 9780141185026

Charles W. Chesnutt (1858-1932)

Edited by:

William L. Andrews, E. Maynard Adams Professor of English
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Unlike the popular “Uncle Remus” stories of Joel Chandler Harris, Charles W. Chesnutt’s tales probe psychological depths in black people unheard of before in Southern regional writing. They also expose the anguish of mixed-race men and women and the consequences of racial hatred, mob violence, and moral compromise.

This important collection contains all the stories in his two published volumes, The Conjure Woman and The Wife of His Youth, along with two uncollected works: the tragic “Dave’s Neckliss” and “Baxter’s Procustes,” Chesnutt’s parting shot at prejudice.

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Mandy Oxendine

Posted in Books, Media Archive, Novels, Passing on 2011-04-02 08:39Z by Steven

Mandy Oxendine

University of Illinois Press
September 1997
136 pages
ISBN-10: 0252063473
ISBN-13: 9780252063473

Charles W. Chesnutt (1858-1932)

Foreword by

William L. Andrews, E. Maynard Adams Professor of English
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

In a novel rejected by a major publisher in the 19th century as too shocking for its time, writer Charles W. Chesnutt (1858-1932) challenges the notion that race, class, education, and gender must define one’s “rightful” place in society. Both a romance and a mystery, Mandy Oxendine tells the compelling story of two fair-skinned, racially mixed lovers who chose to live on opposite sides of the color line.


Mandy Oxedine is Charles W. Chesnutt’s first novel, though it has had to wait one hundred years to find a publisher. The leading African American fiction writer at the turn of the century, Chesnutt apparently began Mandy Oxendine a few years after he made his initial literary success as a short story writer for the prestigious Atlantic Monthly. Failing to interest his publisher in Mandy Oxendine, Chesnutt decided to focus his energies on making a book of short fiction, an effort that was doubly rewarded in 1899 with the publication of The Conjure Woman and The Wife of His Youth and Other Stories of the Color Line. Mandy Oxendine returned to its creator’s file of unpublished manuscripts; evidently Chesnutt never placed it in circulation again.

The effect of Mandy Oxendine on the long evolution of The House behind the Cedars (1900), Chesnutt s first published novel, was significant, for in both stories the central issue is the dilemmas a fair-skinned African American woman must confront in passing for white. When compared with Mandy Oxendine, The House behind the Cedars has reater narrative density and is more sure-handed in its development of secondary characters and plots. On the other hand, with regard to the depiction of the mixed-race woman, the central figure in both stories, the earlier unpublished novel is more resistant to popular notions of femininity and less willing to accommodate itself to the protocols of “tragic mulatta” fiction than is The House behind the Cedars. Perhaps the fate of Mandy Oxendine helped convince Chesnutt that to get his version of the novel of passing into print, he would have to tone down and conventionalize some of the qualities that make Mandy Oxendine remarkable. Certainly next to Rena Walden, the pathetic ingenue who plays the victimized heroine in The House behind the Cedars, Mandy Oxendine seems almost italicized by her bold self-assertiveness and her canny sense of how a woman of color must operate if she is to protect and advance her interests in the post-Reconstruction South. Through her plainspoken southern vernacular, Mandy Oxendine articulates a tough-minded assessment of her racial, gendered, and class-bound condition, which sheds a good deal of light on her creator’s firsthand experience of life along the color line in a region of North Carolina very much like Mandy’s own milieu.

Whether Chesnutt agrees with Mandy s solution to her situation or whether he favors the strategy espoused by her eventual husband, Tom Lowrey, is left deliberately vague in Mandy Oxendine. In the later published novels, Chesnutt usually states or strongly implies his moral perspective on social issues, but in Mandy Oxendine he seems more reticent, as though testing the waters. He may have been trying to determine for himself just how far a writer in his position should go in representing forthrightly and objectively the complex web of personal desire, racial obligation, and socioeconomic ambition that held the mixed-blood in social suspension in the post-Civil War South. Is Mandy Oxendine to be condemned for having spun her own web of deceit, or has she always been caught in a cage designed by the new southern social order to restrain those who might challenge its official deceptions about color and class? However a reader responds to these questions, one suspects that the social and gender issues that probably caused Mandy Oxendine to seem beyond the pale one hundred years ago are likely to make the novel of more than passing interest today, for Mandy Oxendine is a prototype of a new brand of African American literary realism in the early twentieth century.

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The Literary Career of Charles W. Chesnutt

Posted in Books, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Monographs, Passing, Slavery, United States on 2009-11-02 02:17Z by Steven

The Literary Career of Charles W. Chesnutt

Louisiana State University Press
March 1999
312 pages
Trim: 6 x 9
Paper ISBN-13: 9780807124529

William L. Andrews, E. Maynard Adams Professor of English
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

The career of any black writer in nineteenth-century American was fraught with difficulties, and William Andrews undertakes to explain how and why Charles Waddell Chesnutt (1858-1932) became the first Negro novelist of importance: “Steering a difficult course between becoming co-opted by his white literary supporters and becoming alienated from then and their access to the publishing medium, Chesnutt became the first Afro-American writer to use the white-controlled mass media in the service of serious fiction on behalf of the black community.”

Awarded the Spingarn Medal in 1928 by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People [NAACP], Chesnutt admitted without apologies that because of his own experiences, most of his writings concentrated on issue about racial identity. Only one-eighth Negro and able to pass for Caucasian, Chesnutt dramatized the dilemma of others like him. The House Behind the Cedars (1900), Chesnutt’s most autobiographical novel, evokes the world of “bright mulatto” caste in post-Civil War North Carolina and pictures the punitive consequences of being of mixed heritage.

Chesnutt not only made a crucial break with many literary conventions regarding Afro-American life, crafting his authentic material with artistic distinction, he also broached the moral issue of the racial caste system and dared to suggest that a gradual blending of the races would alleviate a pernicious blight on the nation’s moral progress. Andrews argues that “along with [George Washington] Cable in The Grandissimes and Mark Twain in Pudd’nhead Wilson, Chesnutt anticipated [William] Faulkner in focusing on miscegenation, even more than slavery, as the repressed myth of the American past and a powerful metaphor of southern post-Civil War history.” Although Chesnutt’s career suffered setback and though he was faced with compromises he consistently saw America’s race problem as intrinsically moral rather than social or political. In his fiction he pictures the strengths of Afro-Americans and affirms their human dignity and heroic will.

William L. Andrews provides an account of essentially all that Chesnutt wrote, covering the unpublished manuscripts as well as the more successful efforts and viewing these materials in the context of the author’s times and of his total career. Though the scope of this book extends beyond textual criticism, the thoughtful discussions of Chesnutt’s works afford us a vivid and gratifying acquaintance with the fiction and also account for an important episode in American letters and history.

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