Category Archives: contemporary issues

A Black Feminist Approach to History

All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake by Tiya Miles

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Ashley’s sack frames the telling of a history. This book is the antidote for the white upper class worldview presented in books like Gone With the Wind. This is the view from the perspective of the enslaved. An important note: the view isn’t of only the hardships but also of the triumphs, the ways a people treated as things managed to remember and assert their humanity. That was most vivid to me when Miles contrasted the stark businesslike records of selling people with the warm record of the contents of the sack.

Where there are records, Miles combs through them. It seems like drudgery to me to sift through all the bills of sale, wills, and census records till she found a Rose and an Ashley who spent time under the same owner, though on different pieces of property. But the reward came when the pair were found. Other research seems more interesting to do: the social meaning of hair to Victorian English society and to some African societies, the clothing codes for separating the elite from the enslaved–and the transgressions of that code.

Miles keeps readers aware of the degrees of certainty/uncertainty as she fills in gaps. (And gaps there are, for records are sparse.) Sometimes parallel stories convey what might have been Ruth’s, Ashley’s, or Rose’s experiences. Sometimes data is more probable. As an English major trained in the days of close reading, I really appreciated the analysis of the wording of the inscription on the sack by Ruth. And in the spirit of that method, whether or not Ruth meant to achieve any of the effects observed doesn’t matter, so long as the effects are in the text.

It is refreshing to read a history that is not a tale of military heroes and their conquests, but of people and their daily lives, trials and triumphs. All unified by a gift from mother to daughter, Ashley’s sack.



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And the First Week Ends

A couple other bloggers are blogging journals of the coronavirus times and the experience of “social distancing.” (Applique PaintboxSo Scrappy, Art with a needle Maria Shell   ); I’ll come back with other links as I find them.) It seems a good idea. There needs to be a record of these unusual times, a record from ordinary people.

Apart from finishing the Stretching Art piece (here), I haven’t done any quilting. That is neither unusual nor a sign of the times. I usually pause quilting after a finish, especially an intense finish.

Nor have I finished a book. That is a little more unusual as I usually manage a book a week. (I don’t usually blog about every book I read, only books I really like.) I am working on Rachel Maddow’s Blowout. Those of you who listen to her would recognize the pattern: start way back, explore many precursors, finally tie them to something current, at which point as reader, I feel like the need to go back to the beginning to see connections I had missed.

I am also working on Voices from Chernobyl on my iPhone. (In the old days–a week ago–when I was out and about, I kept a book on my phone for bus rides and waiting periods. I will be reading more online while my library is closed.) Svetlana Alexievich takes a similar approach here as she did in Last Witnesses (review here), gathering stories of peoples’ experiences of an event and presenting them with little comment. It is, alas, a timely read. The incompetence and lack of foresight is harrowing, as is the lack of honest communication. There is a major difference, though.  There officials followed orders from above almost unquestioning, out of habit–one example, a radiated village planting peas because it is time to and they had received no orders to change the plan. Here most of our state and local governments are taking matters into their own hands and doing what they can.

I am thinking about my next project.  Nina Marie has suggested a coronavirus quilt along with linky party (here). I have many leader/ender HSTs to press and trim so they can become leaders-and-enders again as potential pinwheels. I have leader/ender 4-patches to press and trim and alternate squares to cut. I have many tops waiting to be quilted. Or projects to start. Or I could make masks.

I have pondered making masks. I waver between “something is better than nothing” and “they would be false security” for one thing. I don’t have non-woven fabric for an inner layer desired by some (and seeming to make them more effective). I don’t have elastic, nor do sites where I usually shop.  (And yes, there are patterns for masks with ties, but locally it seems they want only elastic.) And with all the elastic sold out, I wonder if enough others are making masks that mine would not be needed.  I recall other emergencies where requests have been met with such response that the requesters have begged people to stop. I think I’ll keep my ear to the ground and listen for signs that more are needed, truly needed, before I start.

My time has been spent glued to news. I finally realized that no matter the headline, a new article probably didn’t add enough new information to be worth the time or emotion spent on opening it and have directed my attention elsewhere. I will admit that I keep backsliding into news rabbit holes, though.

For the first week, I actually enjoyed having no external demands. I do rather well with unstructured time–maybe not productive, but contented. I am substituting online and phone contact for hanging out with friends. I am reading FaceBook and MeWe more and following blogs more faithfully. I will not be surprised if that attitude changes.

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Filed under contemporary issues, novel coronavirus