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My Confederate Kinfolk: A Twenty-First…

My Confederate Kinfolk: A Twenty-First Century Freedwoman Discovers Her… (2006)

by Thulani Davis

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    The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau (cbl_tn)
    cbl_tn: Davis writes about the interracial relationship between her African American, former slave great-grandmother and her white great-grandfather in the last quarter of the 19th century in Mississippi. The Keepers of the House is a fictional account of an interracial relationship in the mid-20th century deep South.… (more)

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African American author Thulani Davis explores the family of her white great-grandfather, William Campbell, in My Confederate Kinfolk. Davis states that “this text is not a history nor a genealogy but built from my own great interests: how we define being American, how we deal with race, and human character.” Most of the book focuses on William Campbell and his immediate family – mother, siblings, and niece - during the Civil War and Reconstruction. The Campbell family had extensive land holdings and business interests in Missouri, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Texas. The Campbells were cotton planters, slave owners, and loyal Confederates. Davis thoroughly researched the Campbell family and discovered some interesting facts and connections to prominent American families like the Polks and the Danforths. However, the writing has a stilted, impersonal feel, and I was never quite comfortable while reading it. I think the author's conflicted feelings about her relationship to this family comes across in her writing. It was difficult for me to maintain an interest in people the author clearly seemed to dislike.

I was curious about the relationship between William Campbell and Davis's African American great-grandmother, a former slave. Was their relationship consensual or coerced? Were they married? I didn't learn the answers to these questions until about three quarters of the way through. What did her grandmother feel and experience as a biracial child in Mississippi and Alabama? Davis's grandmother, Georgia, left an unpublished memoir, and Davis knew her grandmother, yet her grandmother is a peripheral figure in this story. The book has quite a few grammatical errors that should have been caught before publication. I checked more than once to make sure I wasn't reading an uncorrected proof copy. While the author doesn't claim to be a genealogist, she does use the types of records and repositories that genealogists use. However, the bibliographical references, particularly those for census and vital records, are not detailed enough for other researchers to follow her trail.

The book was worth reading just for the first chapter, where Davis reflects on her research, American history (both white and African American), and how her discoveries affected her. I've read a lot about the Civil War, but not much about Reconstruction, and I learned quite a bit about that era from this book. A few months ago, I read a novel about the Battle of Pea Ridge in Arkansas, so the references to that battle in Davis's book captured my attention. Davis read widely as she prepared to write this book, following recommendations from subject experts. I added a few items from her bibliography to my reading list.

Readers with a connection to the Campbell family will find much to interest them in this book, but other readers may struggle to maintain their interest all the way to the end. ( )
4 vote cbl_tn | Feb 18, 2011 |
Thulani Davis was familiar with the history of her father's side of the family, but not of her mother's who died young. Starting out with remembrances from her grandmother, and her grandmother's written ac count of her own mother's trip from Arkansas to Mississippi, she went in search of her history. The whole was complicated by the fact that her grandmother was the child of a white landowner, Will Campbell, and his Black housekeeper, Chloe Curry. Nothing is simple in the story, and it reflects the complexities and contradictions of US history. Will and Chloe's story is not a simple case of the sexual exploitation of black women: the relationship was lifelong, Will doted on their daughter, and left his estate to Chloe. Neither was it a simple love story: Chloe was already married and ended up divorcing her freedman husband to stay with Will. But her lack of wifely fidelity is balanced by her fierce loyalty to her family: she used her inheritance to provide land and education for her own children and the children of her siblings. Again, family relations aren't simple. Four of Will's brothers fought for the Confederacy, and one of them joined in the vicious struggle to overturn Black gains during the Reconstruction, and even had a lynching on his property. Davis goes beyond the direct story of her relatives to tell the history of their times. In the end, her story is a microcosm of the complexities of history that every American must deal with. ( )
  juglicerr | Dec 3, 2008 |
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For Chloe Tarrant Curry, Mariah Tarrant and Georgia Campbell Neal. And for all those, known and unknown, who have fought for justice in Mississippi "This little light"
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This is a book about real people and some of their experience from the mid-nineteenth to the beginning of the twentieth century--two families: one black, one white, many of whom never knew each other as well as some of their neighbors, folk whose families lie in graveyards next to the cotton fields they worked.
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Starting from photographs and writings left by her grandmother, African-American novelist Thulani Davis goes looking for her mother's forebears, including the 'whte folk' in her family, a Scots-Irish clan of cotton planters unknown to her--and uncovers a history far richer and stranger than she had ever imagined. Along the way, she finds tartan plaid, unlikely lovers, a lynching close to home, and confederate soldiers. When Davis' grandmother died in 1971, she was writing a novel about her parents, Mississippi cotton farmers who met when in their twenties sometime after the Civil War: Chloe Curry, a former slave from Alabama, married with four children, and Will Campbell, a white planter who had never married. In this intersection of genealogy, memoir, and history, Davis picks ups where her grandmother left off. Davis finds herself on a journey to places from Missouri to Mississippi to Alabama, and even back to her home town in Virginia. The Campbells lead her to locate not only their pioneer history but to find the previously unknown roots of her mother's family on cotton farms in three states, as well as their origins in Sierra Leone. Her journey of personal and intellectual discover takes her through Civil War archives, where she found the records of the Campbells who fought with Confederate troops, to Silver creek plantation in Yazoo, Mississippi, where the two branches of her family history become one; to a county near her Virginia hometown where both families started their American journey, completely unknown to one another. Both personal and political, My Confederate Kinfolk examines the origins of some of our most deeply ingrained notions about what makes a family black or white, and offers an immensely compelling, intellectually challenging alternative. [adapted from book jacket]
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0465015743, Paperback)

Starting from a photograph and writings left by her grandmother, acclaimed African-American novelist Thulani Davis goes looking for the “white folk” in her family, a Scots-Irish family of cotton planters unknown to her-and uncovers a history far richer and stranger than she had ever imagined. Her journey challenges us to examine the origins of some of our most deeply ingrained notions about what makes a family black or white, and offers an immensely compelling, intellectually challenging alternative.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:01:27 -0400)

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