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The New Yorker

My Confederate Kinfolk

"If this were only a compelling account of a real Southern family-- one that honestly acknowledges our multiracial heritage-- then that alone would make My Confederate Kinfolk worthy of prizes and accolades. But Thulani Davis does not stop there. Instead, she delivers a powerful story of the Civil War and Reconstruction, of our 'greatest generation' whose courageous efforts to democratize America were crushed by violence, lawlessness, and an attitude on the part of our white kin that the 'woodpile' ought to be burned."

--Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination


"What's brave and courageous and exciting about Davis' work is its aim not only for inclusiveness over partisan loyalties - of noble and irredeemable, black and white (and multiracial) - but for viewing all parties with a regard to their humanity and their dimensionality."

The Washington Post

"I have an illustration that I've carried around for years. Published in Harper's Weekly on Jan. 31, 1863, it has for a caption: 'Contrabands Coming into Camp in Consequence of the Emancipation.' I count 18 black people of all ages sitting on the ground, standing, looking out from their covered wagon. It looks as if they left somewhere in a hurry. A rifle-bearing Union soldier stands at the rear of the wagon. Who are they? Where have they come from? Where are they going? In her engaging new book, Thulani Davis puts flesh on the bones of that etching and also answers my questions deftly and compassionately. She began with a photograph: a late-19th century picture of an ancestor inspired Davis to explore her sprawling family history. "I have tried to stay close to the ground trod by some of the ancestors," she writes, "clinging to them like a shadow and following their trails through events large and small." Her view pans out, tilts up and down to give us an ever-widening and deepening picture of not only her personal story but also the American story -- who we are and what our history has been. Davis provides a vivid portrait of her African American and white forebears, people who crossed paths in war, in work, in slavery, in freedom and, finally, in love. . . .

Davis's search for her family's true story comes through, too, in excerpts from the exquisitely written book of memories her grandmother, Georgia Neal, was working on but died before completing . . . . Georgia's unfinished family memoir contains many treasures -- details of the plantation at Silver Creek, the life lived by Will and Chloe in those troublesome days. Chloe found a way to educate all of her children and did the same for other relatives as well. This woman was a miracle of life.

Through Davis's dogged research and fine common-sense wisdom, her personal family history ascends to the epic. We journey with the Campbell branch of the family, these hearty people who would be planters, from Tennessee to Missouri, to Texas and Mississippi in pursuit of the riches to be gained from the plantation system and King Cotton. In loosely alternating chapters, we also travel with the Tarrant/Curry branch of her family, who had been enslaved in Alabama since before the Civil War, and watch them struggle with meager material resources to build a new life in freedom after the war. The book weaves these disparate, intimate histories into one compelling tale and gives us, at the same time, a detailed and lively rendering of Reconstruction.

Davis tells us that she is neither a historian nor a genealogist: 'But I am a journalist, who is, like many in my trade, very curious, very stubborn ... So 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.' Readers will joyfully discover that she really is both a genealogist and a tamer of history." --Denise Nicholas

Time Out

" In Thulani Davis's My Confederate Kinfolk, the noted African-American novelist and playwright shakes some strange fruit from her family tree, including a President of the United States [sixth cousin James K. Polk) and a great-great-uncle who permitted a lynching on his property. In this respect, Kinfolk is no mere genealogy, but a critical exploration of the author's white ancestry. . . . Davis's heritage isn't unusual, of course, but in relating it, she provides a deeper understanding of this country and the costs involved in building it."

Publishers Weekly

"Davis succeeds in conveying the precarious position of blacks in the South after the Civil War and her final chapter on the great Mississippi flood of 1927, in which 'the lives of blacks were harder hit than others' has eerie parallels with the post-hurricane flooding of New Orleans. . ."




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