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A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, Including Their Own Narratives of Emancipation Hardcover – November 5, 2007

4.4 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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Three fascinating works are packaged here: two unpublished manuscripts by former slaves Wallace Turnage (1846–1916) and John Washington (1838–1918), and an illuminating analysis of them by award-winning historian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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"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 

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (November 5, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151012326
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151012329
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #194,259 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By James Hiller VINE VOICE on December 4, 2007
Format: Hardcover
There have been many books about slavery and the brutality of the life that so many people had to endure. Much of this has been documented by authors and historians, and told about in history books and fiction alike. Part of this record includes the slave narratives, first person accounts, written by slaves themselves, that detail their hardships and trials, and most of them, recounting their path to freedom. David Blight has two such narratives in his new, and frankly, phenomenal new book: A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, Including Their Own Narratives of Emancipation. This is a book for your shelf.

Blight starts the book with a brief review of the history of slave narratives, the distinct differences between pre and post-emancipation narratives, and how these two remarkable narratives fell into his possession, both within six months of each other. He then retells their own lives, giving background and general information (including some from other slave narratives) to make the two men's accounts more whole.

The rest of the book is the actual narratives of both John Washington and Wallace Turnage. And what a powerhouse of writing both of these narratives are. Both men, finding their path to freedom during the Civil War, both with help from the Union army. But each man found his path to freedom in his own unique way, and both accounts are riveting memoirs of using wits, guts, and determination to ensure their survival.

It's so personal to read these. You get a sense of the men behind the words, it's almost like you are eavesdropping on a grandfather recounting his younger days to a granddaughter.
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Format: Hardcover
The story of American slavery has to include the ills of the system, the changes wrought in the aftermath of emancipation and the precipitous slide down into the sins of segregation. In this book we have the complete story, wrapped around two authentic slave narratives. Because both writers, John Washington and Wallace Turnage, escaped from bondage and lived through the end of the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation and an America reunited and struggling with racial animosities and tensions, the book's author, David W. Blight, has used their accounts to paint the broad landscape.

Blight is the director of Yale's Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition. He wrote, among other books, RACE AND REUNION, winner of the Frederick Douglass Prize, the Lincoln Prize and the Bancroft Prize. He is dedicated to the principle that slavery has no benign aspect and that the sufferings and trials of men like Washington and Turnage to attain freedom are testament to the absolute brutality of the Southern system. With frequent quotes not just from the two narratives (which are included in their totality in the book, Washington and Turnage being uniquely credited as co-authors of A SLAVE NO MORE) but from the writings of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs among others, Blight illustrates what privations the Southern slave was willing to endure in the pursuit of the prize of freedom, a prize that brought no property, no wealth and few rights, but secured the right to pursue wealth and eventually own property.

Wright extols the sacrifices of the Union Army and the efforts of good souls who helped to manage "contraband camps" where ex-slaves gathered in their thousands to pray, practice their new vocations and get a start at life as free human beings.
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Format: Hardcover
History buffs in general will find "A Slave No More" a highly valuable read. For students of American history, and particularly for those who are interested in the Civil War and Reconstruction period, this book is must reading. There are not many first-person accounts by former slaves available to us. This volume contains two such narratives, hitherto unpublished: one is by Wallace Turnage and the other is by John Washington, both former slaves who found their way to freedom during the Civil War. David Blight presents them here in their original form "with virtually no changes to the grammar and spelling," although he has done some minor editing in their structure (primarily providing paragraph breaks) to assist in reading.

The reader is not, however, immediately thrust into the narratives themselves. Blight spends the first 162 pages introducing us to the two writers, using genealogical data, and to the context in which the narratives were written. Turnage's and Washington's escape to freedom occurred during the chaos of this nation's most bloody war (over 600,000 casualties) and amidst a political and cultural conflict (state's rights and slavery) which had been ripping the country apart for many decades. It is, I think, essential to understand the plight of the Black slave on a personal level, to understand what it means to be someone else's "property," completely and totally subject to someone else's will, to recognize and accept that slaves were not thought to be fully "human." Blight does an outstanding job of providing the necessary background for the narratives.

I recommend this book to all readers who love the study of history. It is a valuable contribution to the genre.
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