Cover image for A way out of no way : claiming family and freedom in the new South
A way out of no way : claiming family and freedom in the new South
Swann-Wright, Dianne, 1950-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Charlottesville : University of Virginia Press, 2002.
Physical Description:
xii, 195 pages : illustrations, map ; 23 cm.
Patronage -- Work relationships -- Land acquisition -- Getting things -- Spoken words -- A coming together.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
F232.B96 .S83 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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An African American folk saying declares, "Our God can make a way out of no way.... He can do anything but fail." When Dianne Swann-Wright set out to capture and relate the history of her ancestors--African Americans in central Virginia after the Civil War--she had to find that way, just as her people had done in creating a new life after emancipation. In order to tell their story, she could not rely solely on documents from the plantation where her forebears had lived. Unlike the register of babies born, marriages made, or lives lost that white families' Bibles contained, ledgers recorded Swann-Wright's ancestors, as commodities. Thus Swann-Wright took another route, setting out to gather spoken words--stories, anecdotes, and sayings. What results is a strikingly rich and textured history of a slave community.

Looking at relations between plantation owners and their slaves and the succeeding generations of both, A Way out of No Way explores what it meant for the master-slave relation to change to one of employer and employee and how patronage, work relationships, and land acquisition evolved as the people of Piedmont Virginia entered the twentieth century. Swann-Wright illustrates how two white landowners, one of whom had headed a plantation before the Civil War, learned to compensate freed persons for their labor. All the more fascinating is her study of how the emancipated learned to be free--of how they found their way out of no way.

Author Notes

Dianne Swann-Wright is Director of African American and Special Programs and Project Historian for the Getting Word oral history program at Monticello. She has been an educator, historian, and museum consultant on issues of African American history and culture

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Swann-Wright (Thomas Jefferson Foundation) has reconstructed the evolution of a community in rural Buckingham County, Virginia from 1865 through 1930 to illustrate adjustments that former slaves and their former masters had to make in the decades after emancipation. In an absence of formal public records, this story of how "white landowners learned to compensate freed persons for their labor and how the emancipated learned to be free" is built on private documents and family oral history. For African Americans, acquisition of land was a key element in defining their freedom, representing an "avenue to personal and group independence." But the majority of the freedmen did not attain land ownership. Perhaps the most valuable possession that these former slaves and their descendents maintained was the oral history that defined them as individuals and as an integral community. Studies of other communities of freed African Americans are cited for comparison purposes, but the book's focus is clearly on this isolated and insular neighborhood and on the invaluable lesson that "individual actions and the consequences of those actions ... reveal how people made their own history." ^BSumming Up: Recommended. General collections and upper-division undergraduates and above. M. J. Puglisi Virginia Intermont College

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. viii
Prefacep. ix
Acknowledgmentsp. xi
Introductionp. 1
1. Patronagep. 23
2. Work Relationshipsp. 43
3. Land Acquisitionp. 69
4. Getting Thingsp. 90
5. Spoken Wordsp. 107
6. A Coming Togetherp. 127
Codap. 145
Appendixp. 147
Notesp. 159
Bibliographyp. 179
Indexp. 185