From Publishers Weekly
Three fascinating works are packaged here: two unpublished manuscripts by former slaves Wallace Turnage (1846–1916) and John Washington (1838–1918), and an illuminating analysis of them by award-winning historian Blight. Turnage's journal (a sketch of my life or adventures and persecutions which I went through from 1860 to 1865) is about his attempted escapes and their dire consequences: from his first, when he didn't know where to go, to his successful fifth and last runaway. His account is particularly noteworthy in its revelation of the slave and free-black networks he found and utilized. Washington's Memorys of the Past moves from his most pleasant early childhood through the many trials of slavery and the disruptions of the Civil War, ending with his successful escape in 1862. As Blight observes, it's very much a coming of age story, offering a unique window on life (learning to read, falling in love, finding religious faith) in a slave society. Blight provides an accessible historical and literary context for the manuscripts and explores, as fully as possible, the men's lives not covered in their manuscripts (both are self-emancipated). These powerful memoirs reveal poignant, heroic, painful and inspiring lives. (Nov.)
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PRAISE FOR ROWING TO FREEDOM
"Rowing to Freedom is a remarkable and rare volume. We are fortunate that David Blight, a foremost authority on the slave narrative, has applied his considerable skills as historian and detective to these extraordinary stories of 'ordinary' men. As if their own stories of slavery and the flight to freedom were not fascinating enough, Blight has filled in the details of their lives after slavery in a way that re-creates both the turbulence and nearly unfathomable joy of emancipation. The narratives of Turnage and Washington will surely take their place among the most moving and instructive examples of the genre." --Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
"Together, Blight's meticulous research and the previously unknown autobiographical writings of these two men bring to life with unprecedented power the human dimensions of slavery and emancipation." --Eric Foner
"Rowing to Freedom presents two of the most significant finds in the entire genre of slave narratives and of the primary material from the Civil War." --David Levering Lewis, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of W. E. B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race, 1868–1919
"David Blight combines the authority of a great historian with the humanistic zeal of a novelist . . . Rowing to Freedom is a compelling account of two men of remarkable courage who, by writing down their stories, sought to make themselves visible. Neither man could have wished for a more sympathetic or knowledgeable interpreter than David Blight." --Caryl Phillips, author of A Distant Shore