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About the Author

Tiya Miles is Professor of History and American Culture at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She is the author of The House on Diamond Hill: A Cherokee Plantation Story and The Cherokee Rose: A Novel of Gardens and Ghosts. Among other notable prizes and fellowships, she was awarded a MacArthur show more Foundation Fellowship in 2011. show less

Works by Tiya Miles

Associated Works

The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story (2021) — Contributor — 1,508 copies
Listen Up: Voices from the Next Feminist Generation (1995) — Contributor — 587 copies

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In 2007 at a Nashville yard sale what appears to be a very old cotton sack is found among other odds and ends of cloth. On this bag is this embroidered inscription:

“ My great grandmother Rose
mother of Ashley gave her this sack when
she was sold at age 9 in South Carolina
it held a tattered dress 3 handfulls of
pecans a braid of Roses hair. Told her
It be filled with my Love always
she never saw her again
Ashley is my grandmother
— Ruth Middleton, 1921”

Based on the last name embroidered on the bag, the finder donates it to the prestigious Middleton Place Foundation in Charleston, SC, a museum of an antebellum plantation.

Eventually it comes to the attention of historian Tiya Miles. She uses the very sketchy slave records of Middleton Plantation to try to trace Rose and her daughter Ashley (an unusual name for an ‘unfree’ person as Miles calls the enslaved). Although these names do not occur in the Middleton records, she does find them among the records of a nearby slave holder.

There are not many facts to be found. The genealogical line of the woman who did the embroidery died out two generations later without heirs. The contents of the sack are gone; it is empty.

And so Tiya details what she can find, speculates on events, and fills the book with details such as what this bag may have originally held, the only types of cloth unfree people were allowed to use for clothes, the meaning of wild pecan trees to Native people in the area, and the use of hair strands twisted into various ornaments for remembrance. Because of the paucity of facts available, at times she seems to be stretching points as she gives symbols to the colors of the embroidery Ruth Middleton used.

And yet, this empty sack and the story of the frightened nine-year-old girl sold away from her grieving mother never to see each other again, thoroughly captured my imagination. The sack is now on loan to the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History – one of very few documented possessions of the unfree who, generally, weren’t allowed possessions. It’s a story that documents a moment in time but is witness to people untraceable earlier than this event and unknowable regarding the lives of both giver and receiver. It is totally searing and illuminates the atrocity of slavery.
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½
 
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streamsong | 21 other reviews | Apr 1, 2024 |
I want to thank [[Tiya Miles]] for her book Wild Girls: how the outdoors shaped the women who challenged a nation, a short (128 pages) introduction to a combination of African American, Native American and European women of the 1800s in what has become the United States of America. According to Miles these women used their experiences in nature as well as their communities both to challenge & organize these communities. I'm not sure that academia would call Mile's book a strong thesis, but I enjoyed reading about these women and their experiences. A few of them I had heard of; many I had not.

For me, the most intriguing section was “Game Changers” (Chapter 3) which focused on the development of federal boarding schools for Native American children (prefigured, according to the author, by Sacajewea's travels with the Lewis & Clark expedition.)

The conclusion, “Blue Moons” focusses on a few women in the twentieth century: [[Grace Lee Boggs]] (Chinese American, memoir [Living for Change]) who became an advocate of urban farming & cooperative community in Detroit; Delores Huerta, Mexican American labor activist; and [[Octavia Butler]], African American speculative fiction writer. I think I may be due a reread of her [Parable of the Sower] and [Parable of the Talents].
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½
1 vote
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markon | Mar 10, 2024 |
Tiya uses Ashley's bag to illuminate black history from South Carolina in the mid 1800s and beyond through five generations. I found the book very educational, though in some sections she circles around and around too much for my liking.
 
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joyjannotti | 21 other reviews | Feb 10, 2024 |
Beautiful story about modern descendants excavating the largely undocumented history of property owned by a mixed Indigenous/White slaveholder on a Georgia plantation in the pre-Civil War 19th century. Well written, although there were large sections of fictional journal entries that interrupted the narrative action and might have been better incorporated in smaller pieces. I won a galley proof copy of this paperback in a Goodreads giveaway. I would like to thank the author, Tiya Miles, and Penguin-Random House for sending it to me!… (more)
 
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bschweiger | 5 other reviews | Feb 4, 2024 |

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