School Library Journal
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YA-A compelling saga, Ball's biographical history of his family stands as a microcosm of the evolution of American racial relations. Meticulously researched, and aided by the fact that the South Carolina Ball families were compulsive record keepers, the story begins with the first Ball to arrive in Charleston in 1698. The family eventually owned more than 20 rice plantations along the Cooper River, businesses made profitable by the work of slaves. In the course of his research, the author learned that his ancestors were not only slave owners, but also that there was a highly successful slave trader company in his background. He was able to trace the offspring of slave women and Ball men (between 75,000 and 100,000 currently living) and locate a number of his own African-American distant cousins. Although records indicate that the author's forebearers were not by any means cruel or vicious owners, his remorse for these facets of his family history is clear. In the course of his research, he visited Bunce Island, off the coast of Sierra Leone, to see the fortress from which his ancestors loaded terrorized men, women, and children onto slave ships. Their story represents that of many African Americans. This book helps readers to visualize, if not understand, the slave legacy still enmeshed in this country today. Despite its length, this is an important, well-written slice of history that will be of interest to young adults.-Carol DeAngelo, Garcia Consulting Inc., EPA Headquarters, Washington, DC (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
Journalist Ball conceived the idea to recount the family histories of his plantation-owning ancestors and, with more difficulty due to the paucity of records, the people they owned. This resulting microcosm of America's original sin of slavery is an innovative package of historical narrative and oral history and even modern reconciliation. In upholding their pillar in the structure of slavery, the Ball clan, whose rice-growing lands lay upriver of Charleston, weren't the cruelest of masters, or so said the family stories. This sentimental, fuzzy memory is belied by Ball's hard look at records stretching from the founding of the clan's wealth in 1698 to its end with the arrival of Union troops in 1865. In between, the author fascinatingly relates the Balls' grim involvement with slavery, such as advertising for runaways or riding the night patrol to catch them, and their dread of uprisings, as in the famous Denmark Vesey conspiracy of 1822. The mirror image of the Ball genealogy is that of the people they owned, and the author richly recounts the journeys and conversations he undertook to connect people named on the Ball slave lists with their living descendants. A multilevel effort to understand the past of slavery and its echo in the present, this is an informative, ruminative, and inspirational page-turner. --Gilbert Taylor