Cover image for The Hairstons : an American family in black and white
The Hairstons : an American family in black and white
Wiencek, Henry.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
xx, 361 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 8.7 25.0 35836.
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E185.96 .W55 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
E185.96 .W55 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
E185.96 .W55 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Black History Non-Circ

On Order



A story of slavery's lasting power traces the Black and white sides of a slaveholding family's history, showing the inspiring rise of the family's Black descendents and the fall of the formerly wealthy whites.

Author Notes

Henry Wiencek was born in Boston and educated at Yale. He has contributed articles to American Heritage, Smithsonian, and other publications, and is the author of a number of books, including Mansions of the Virginia Gentry, Plantations of the Old South, and Old Houses. He was the editor of the twelve-volume Smithsonian Guide to Historic America and wrote two volumes in that series. He lives in Virginia with his wife, the writer Donna Lucey, and their son, Henry.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Covering similar ground as Edward Ball's National Book Award-winning Slaves in the Family, Wiencek steps gracefully through the intricate web that links two family trees, one white and one black. Because it's not his own family history he explores, Wiencek doesn't labor under the burden of personal moral accountability that made Ball's book so powerful. He intends his book as a national "parable of redemption"‘and he succeeds, admirably, in presenting the Hairstons as a metaphor for the nation while also presenting the specificity of their history, which he learned by traveling through three Southern states in search of interviews and courthouse records. He attempts a balance between the two stories over centuries of ignored heritage and denied kin. At one point, the founding Hairston family owned several plantations and hundreds of slave families over three states. Master Peter Hairston and his former slave Thomas Harston fought on opposite sides in the Civil War, and "the success of one brought the other low." As Wiencek follows the Hairstons from Reconstruction through the civil rights era, he paints a picture of the declining fortunes of the descendants of the slave master and the rise and wisdom of the descendants of the slaves. And yet the name itself is treasured among both family branches, and some of the white descendants can't resist the desire to make contact with the other branch. Commonalities emerge among black and white Hairstons; earnest, if partial, gestures of reconciliation are made. Throughout, Wiencek writes without sentimentality but with great feeling. "I heard history," he writes, "not as a historian would write it but as a novelist would imagine it.... I felt all the moral confusion of a spy." Maps, photographs and extended family trees not seen by PW. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

This profile of the Hairstons, a large family of planters and slaves spreading from Virginia and North Carolina to Mississippi, examines the intricate situations forged by interracial relationships and reveals the fate of the family in the crucible of war, emancipation, and the struggle for equality. Journalist Wiencek's conversational narrative, based both on archival research and a series of encounters with family members, highlights the contingent construction of historical accounts while revealing the complex and contradictory beliefs and emotions that characterized these tangled relationships, filled with guilt, anger, and ultimately forgiveness without absolution. The result is a voyage of discovery down the stream of history. Wiencek reminds us that no such story, especially one as compelling as this, can be rendered simply in terms of black and white. Recommended for most libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 10/15/98.]‘Brooks D. Simpson, Arizona State Univ., Tempe (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Family Treesp. viii
Map: The Hairston Plantationsp. xiv
A Note on Namesp. xvii
Introductionp. xix
Part I The Land of the Pharaohsp. 1
1. Cooleemee Plantationp. 3
2. "Damn Your Souls, Make Tobacco"p. 22
3. Beaver Creekp. 44
4. The Lives of the Hairston Slavesp. 57
5. A Brief Illuminationp. 72
6. The Education of a Slave Masterp. 75
7. The Lost Childp. 91
8. A Mingling of Rootsp. 100
Part II "I Tremble for My Country"p. 133
9. "No Man Can Hinder Me"p. 135
10. "Till the Last Man"p. 146
11. The Scroll of Namesp. 174
Part III "Our Blood Is in This Soil"p. 217
12. A Gathering in Ohiop. 219
13. The Liberation of Walnut Covep. 226
14. In Search of the Fatherp. 248
15. A Rite of Reconciliationp. 283
16. A Monument by the Riverp. 293
Notesp. 313
Bibliographyp. 335
Acknowledgmentsp. 345
Indexp. 349