All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley's Sack, a Black Family Keepsake
NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER • NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A renowned historian traces the life of a single object handed down through three generations of Black women to craft a “deeply layered and insightful” (The Washington Post) testament to people who are left out of the archives.
WINNER: Frederick Douglass Book Prize, Harriet Tubman Prize, PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award, Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, Ralph Waldo Emerson Prize, Lawrence W. Levine Award, Darlene Clark Hine Award, Cundill History Prize, Joan Kelly Memorial Prize, Massachusetts Book Award
ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The Washington Post, Slate, Vulture, Publishers Weekly
“A history told with brilliance and tenderness and fearlessness.”—Jill Lepore, author of These Truths: A History of the United States
In 1850s South Carolina, an enslaved woman named Rose faced a crisis: the imminent sale of her daughter Ashley. Thinking quickly, she packed a cotton bag for her with a few items, and, soon after, the nine-year-old girl was separated from her mother and sold. Decades later, Ashley’s granddaughter Ruth embroidered this family history on the sack in spare, haunting language.
Historian Tiya Miles carefully traces these women’s faint presence in archival records, and, where archives fall short, she turns to objects, art, and the environment to write a singular history of the experience of slavery, and the uncertain freedom afterward, in the United States. All That She Carried is a poignant story of resilience and love passed down against steep odds. It honors the creativity and resourcefulness of people who preserved family ties when official systems refused to do so, and it serves as a visionary illustration of how to reconstruct and recount their stories today
FINALIST: MAAH Stone Book Award, Kirkus Prize, Mark Lynton History Prize, Chatauqua Prize
ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The New York Times, NPR, Time, The Boston Globe, The Atlantic, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Smithsonian Magazine, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Ms. magazine, Book Riot, Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Booklist
Praise for All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley's Sack, a Black Family Keepsake
“A remarkable book.”—Jennifer Szalai, The New York Times
“Deeply and lovingly researched . . . a testament to the power of story, witness, and unyielding love.”—Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“Through [Miles’s] interpretation, the humble things in the sack take on ever-greater meaning, its very survival seems magical, and Rose’s gift starts to feel momentous in scale.”—Rebecca Onion, Slate
“A brilliant exercise in historical excavation and recovery . . . With creativity, determination, and great insight, Miles illuminates the lives of women who suffered much, but never forgot the importance of love and family.”—Annette Gordon-Reed, author of The Hemingses of Monticello
“[An] extraordinary story . . . Unique and unforgettable.”—Ms.
“[A] powerful history of women and slavery.”—The New Yorker
“[A] sparkling tale.”—Oprah Daily
“Tiya Miles is a gentle genius . . . All That She Carried is a gorgeous book and a model for how to read as well as feel the precious artifacts of Black women’s lives.”—Imani Perry, author of Breathe: A Letter to My Sons
“All That She Carried is a moving literary and visual experience about love between a mother and daughter and about many women descendants down through the years. Above all it is Miles’s lyrical story, written in her signature penetrating prose, about the power of objects and memory, as well as human endurance, in the history of slavery. The book is nothing short of a revelation.”—David W. Blight, Yale University, author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom
“Ashley’s Sack, as it is known, with its short and simple message of intergenerational love, becomes a portal through which Tiya Miles views and reimagines the inner lives of Black women. She excavates the history of Black women who face insurmountable odds and invent a language that can travel across time.”—Michael Eric Dyson, author of Long Time Coming: Reckoning with Race in America
“Tiya Miles uses the tools of her trade to tend to Black people, to Black mothers and daughters, to our wounds, to collective Black love and loss. This book demonstrates Miles’s signature genius in its rare balance of both rigor and care.”—Brittney Cooper, author of Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower
“All That She Carried is a masterpiece work of African American women’s history that reveals what it takes to survive and even thrive. Read this book and then pass it on to someone you love.”—Martha S. Jones, author of Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All
“Tiya Miles has written a beautiful book about the tragic materiality of black women’s lives across three generations, through slavery and freedom. This book is for anyone interested in learning about black people's centrality to American history.”—Stephanie Jones-Rogers, author of They Were Her Property
“[A] brilliant and compassionate account.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)