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Forbidden Fruit: Love Stories from the Underground Railroad Hardcover – February 1, 2005


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"He carried his wife to freedom on his scarred and beaten back - that's really all you need to know about John Little." But journalist DeRamus reveals more about Little and a dozen or so others in this uplifting and sometimes heartbreaking look at love during the U.S.'s slavery years. Employing newspaper articles, unpublished memoirs and reminiscences, oral histories, slave narratives, census data and other sources, not to mention a dramatic, novelistic narrative voice, DeRamus profiles couples - slave and free, black and white - who risked everything to be together. Slaves Ellen and William Craft escaped to the North by posing as a master (Ellen, with her "creamy color," played a white man) and his man (William was "the slave who cut up her meat and warmed her flannels"). James Smith was an escaped slave who spent 17 years traveling from Virginia to Canada in search of his beloved wife, and Lucy Millard was a white preacher's daughter who fell in love with Isaac Berry, a slave. "[N]ot all of these true tales end in triumph," DeRamus warns, but they are all riveting - if sometimes told in overdone prose. DeRamus and her subjects do the valuable service of reminding readers what it means to be courageous enough to love "in sickness and in health, [and] in war and peace as well." Illus
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From Booklist

Debunking one of the myths used to justify separating families during slavery, de Ramus offers a collection of stories recording the love and devotion of slave couples, many of whom risked their lives to stay together. Because families could be divided on the whim or financial woes of masters, real love was a luxury, a forbidden fruit. Drawing from historical records, unpublished memoirs, newspaper accounts, and stories passed down through families, de Ramus tells of couples fleeing the South via the Underground Railroad to attain freedom and to maintain their unity. She recounts the story of a young slave girl who travels inside a wooden chest to her beloved, while a young white woman and an enslaved man travel separately and meet in Canada. Free black men and women occasionally relinquished their freedom to chance remaining with their loved ones. De Ramus recalls couples, from the Deep South to the upper reaches of Michigan, facing mobs and bounty hunters in their efforts to stay together, adding a new perspective to the history of American slavery. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books (February 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743482638
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743482639
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 7.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,031,933 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

A passion for the troubles and triumphs of ordinary people led journalist Betty DeRamus to write two nonfiction books, Forbidden Fruit: Love Stories from the Underground Railroad and Freedom by Any Means: True Stories of Cunning and Courage on the Underground Railroad.
Forbidden Fruit is a collection of love stories about slavery-era couples, some enslaved, some free, most black but a few interracial, who fought mobs, wolves, bloodhounds, bounty hunters, bullets and social tboos to preserve their relationships. Characters in these largely untold tales include a free black man who became a slave to remain with his wife and a young slave girl who is delivered to her fiance inside a wooden chest.
Freedom by Any Means bring to life little-known heroes and heroines of the slavery and post-slavery era who did everything from build their own towns to successfully sue for their freedom in court. Slavery-era black capitalists are among the many clever characters in Freedom and, according to the author, these true stories contain lessons for Americans dealing right now with record unemployment, foreclosures and other economic ills.
"In nearly every case, these 19th century black success stories--many of them freed or runaway slaves--followed the same pattern," says DeRamus. "They took what little they had and turned it into something valuable.
"They became successful by cooking oysters, growing a different kind of cantaloupe, doing magic tricks and even making cheese. One man turned a shopping cart into a department store on wheels. These people recognized the value of whatever skills they happened to have, no matter how humble. "
In one memorable story, a former slave named Clara Brown persuaded a group of Colorado-bound gold seekers to hire her as a cook and laundress. The 59-year-old woman then traveled with a caravan of covered wagons to Denver. In gold-rich Central City, Colorado, she boiled and scrubbed shirts and nursed the sick. By 1866, she had earned $10,000, including her investments in mining claims. She eventually found 34 relatives and brought them West.
Mary Ellen Pleasant was a black 19th century boarding house owner who pretended she was the servant of her white business partner, a vice president of Bank of America. Meanwhile, she led several lives, hiding runaway slaves, challenging discrimination on San Francisco's streetcars and using the knowledge gained from mingling with the wealthy to make the investments that earned her millions.
Nelson Gant, was a freed Virginian who managed to escape punishment for trying to steal his enslaved wife. After moving to Zanesville, Ohio, he bought and sold land, became famous for his specialty fruits and vegetables and owned a coal mine. When he died, the Zanesville Daily News called him "probably the wealthiest colored citizen in Ohio," DeRamus said.
An enslaved North Carolina woman named Sally Williams eventually lost the small fortune she accumulated from selling home-brewed beer, coffee and gingerbread. But in her heyday, the hired-out slave earned enough to pay a girl to help her around the house. Other slaves and freedmen that DeRamus depicts were equally savvy. Charles Shearer, a former slave rescued by Union troops, used his hunting and fishing skills to feed his rescuers and later used those same talents to run a popular summer inn. Richard Potter earned a fortune by performing magic tricks, becoming the first black and the first American-born magician.
And once he reached Michigan, Mississippi-born James H. Cole used his history of working with horses to begin building a fortune : he stabled the horses of local Union regiments. When he died in 1901, Cole's wealth was estimated at $200,000, which would make him a multi-millionaire in today's dollars.
Freedom by Any Means doesn't only document the material success of some former slaves, DeRamus stresses. It also salutes people who successfully sued for their freedom in court or who liberated themselves through complicated con games and bluffs. "They were black people who did what seemed impossible in their time," she says. "They literally showed us the way."
Betty DeRamus has been an eyewitness to much contemporary history. She wrote about the old Soviet Union before it collapsed, spent time in West Berlin before its wall fell and toured Central African refugee camps with representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees 10 years before the Rwandan massacres. For her coverage of Nelson Mandela's release from prison, she received an award for international reporting from the National Association of Black Journalists. A former columnist for several publications including the Detroit News, The Detroit Free Press, the Associated Press and the British Broadcasting Corporation, Betty DeRamus was a 1993 finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in commentary. For more information go to www.bettyderamus.com

Customer Reviews

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See all 24 customer reviews
I love this book and it's a great book to add to my collection of good reading.
Katkando
This book contains not only love stories, but inspiring stories of faith, strength, endurance and resilience as well as stories of suffering and heartache.
Dr.D.M.Holloway
The author, Betty DeRamus, has done a wonderful job in bringing the stories to life.
Theresa Noll

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By The RAWSISTAZ Reviewers on May 7, 2006
Format: Paperback
FORBIDDEN FRUIT: Love Stories from the Underground Railroad by Betty DeRamus is an earth-shaking book of short stories about what African Americans were willing to do to keep their loved ones in their lives. In "The Special Delivery Package," a female slave, Lear Green, was willing to have herself shipped in a sailor's chest to the north to meet her husband-to-be. With no food, water and scant air, she traveled 18 hours to Philadelphia. James Smith, "A Love Worth Waiting For," was beaten bloody on several occasions as he attempted to escape to the wife he'd been sold away from. A black overseer heard him praying for him and the white men who abused him and was so moved that he unchained Smith so that he could finally successfully escape. Isaac Berry, of "Hound Dogs Hate Red Pepper," put red pepper in his shoes to throw the dogs off his scent as he rushed toward the north. There were many people, including those of the Underground Railroad, who helped him in his escape. The Underground Railroad, operating at the peril of the conductors, rushed slaves seeking freedom across the US border into Canada because the Fugitive Slave laws frequently made it dangerous, if not impossible, for them to find peace even in the northern United States.

All of the stories were heart wrenching and it made you wonder if you would have the strength, the persistence, the nerve, that these early Africans had to pursue love at any cost. The tales also brought to the forefront the tragedies that our ancestors survived daily: beatings, being sold from family and friends, early death from abuse, starvation and terror. Ms. DeRamus brings the stories of these brave people alive and puts it in your face where you can't hide.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By John Matlock on March 2, 2005
Format: Hardcover
These are stories of hope that take place in the midst of one of the most terrible times in American history. When some people thought that they could own others based just on skin color, other people lived and even loved.

These stories are based on the tales passed down by descendants, unpublished memoirs, Civil War records, books, magazines and dozens of previously untapped sources. They add an entirely new dimension to what life must have been like in the pre-war South.

More than anything else these stories help you to relate to the people, they add character to the bare statistics. It adds a very human dimension to the people who through no fault of their own were slaves. These people knew love, had feelings, were not just the animals they were considered by their owners.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on February 11, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Forbiden Fruit is one of the best history books I've seen in a long time. It tells a largely ignored story and reminds the reader that the slaves were human beings, not symbols and that they weren't passively waiting to be saved. This book is filled with men and women who risked everything for the freedom to be with their beloved.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By msijg on February 8, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Betty DeRamus is an excellent writer and her take on how far people were willing to go for love in a time when the ultimate price was literally losing your life is a tribute to our African American ancestors. As a columnist for the Detroit News and Michigan Chronicle, DeRamus has educated and informed the masses of devout Detroit followers who, like her, son believed that she had more to contribute to the legacy of all writers especially African American writers. DeRamus will sign copies of Forbidden Fruit at Barnes & Noble in Detroit on Warren btwn. noon and two on 2/9/05 and Waldenbooks btwn. noon and two on 2/10/05.

An excerpt of this book is available at [...]
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Jameelah Douglas on September 12, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I was hooked on this one when I picked it up. I was just going to read a paragraph or two to see how it reads. The next thing I knew the phone was ringing, and when I answered the phone, I realized that I had been reading for a couple of hours. I had to control my urges to pick up the book when I had appointments or other things I needed to do first. It is a really interesting read. And it reads well also.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Dr.D.M.Holloway on June 29, 2007
Format: Paperback
This book contains not only love stories, but inspiring stories of faith, strength, endurance and resilience as well as stories of suffering and heartache. The book is written by a jouralist which is evident in the historical details of the unfolding stories. I found it interesting, entertaining , informative and educational. I am a minister and used it in a Bible study on the subject of "eros."
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Joyce Fields on January 20, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I used to be a regular reader of Betty's Detroit Free Press column when I lived in Detroit. She is truly a gifted writer--and an excellent researcher. I found myself drawn into the times and events depicted in "Forbidden Fruit: Love Stories from the Underground Railroad." The history that Betty uncovered should be made into a feature film so that what she found will not be lost.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Bathshua on March 16, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
For the old school paperback readers like myself, this was a very good deal. Love the stories. It's like sitting down and having your grandparents or great grandparents tell you how they found their love and what it love meant then.
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