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Slaves in the Family Book Report

  • Date Submitted: 03/29/2010 01:08 PM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 51.1 
  • Words: 1368
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Edward Ball may not have had an inkling of what a tremendous Pandora’s box he was opening when he decided to look into the details behind an old family manuscript he had inherited from his father. Ball’s father, an Episcopal minister named the Reverend Theodore Porter Ball, had grown up in Charleston, South Carolina, one of many generations of Balls whose legacy in the area stretched back to the seventeenth century. He had in his possession an obscure family memoir, penned by a distant cousin and printed in 1909. Before he died, he passed it on to his young son Edward, who at the time had barely entered adolescence. “One day you’ll want to know about all this,” the elder Ball said. Those words proved both an apt prophecy and an egregious understatement. Slaves in the Family is written as if by one whose wanting to know had reached the level of a spiritual calling.
In the book, the research process is laid bare. Edward Ball tells the reader what he read, who he encountered, what places he went to visit, who he interviewed, what they said. It is part oral history, part group biography, part autobiography, and part social history of slavery and of the rice-growing plantations of South Carolina. By making the research and interview process overt, Ball styles himself the major protagonist in a kind of journey. He reclaims history lost, denied, or ignored. He also performs a kind of personal, and political, psychoanalysis of himself, his family, and by extension, the whole period of Southern history during which white people held black people as slaves.
He begins his story with the outlines of his family history as it had always been represented to him within the white side of his family. Then he goes deeper. A professional journalist, he checks the facts, and he reports, in chapters that are virtual feature stories, what he discovered. Delving into his family’s checkered history became a process by which basic tenets of old family lore were...


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