In 1850s South Carolina, just before nine-year-old Ashley was sold, her mother Rose gave her a sack filled with just a few things as a token of her love. Decades later, Ashley's granddaughter Ruth embroidered this history on the bag--including Rose's message that 'It be filled with my Love always.' Historian Tiya Miles carefully follows faint archival traces back to Charleston to find Rose in the kitchen where she may have packed the sack for Ashley.
... a remarkable book, striking a delicate balance between two seemingly incommensurate approaches: Miles’s fidelity to her archival material, as she coaxes out facts grounded in the evidence; and her conjectures about this singular object, as she uses what is known about other enslaved women’s lives to suppose what could have been.
Miles is renowned for her ability to spin touchingly personal stories out of deeply researched material. Her latest tour de force centers on Ashley’s Sack, which is on display in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. From this single piece of history, Miles traces three generations of Black women from 1850’s South Carolina to the recent past, crafting her own indispensable artifact in the process.
Miles does a difficult task incomparably well ... With gentleness and historical acumen, Miles explores the history of this sack, and why it is important in larger terms as part of African American history ... will transport readers to difficult times in American history, and make them think more carefully about all the physical goods they take for granted in their day-to-day lives.