To Walk About in Freedom
The Long Emancipation of Priscilla Joyner
At the close of the Civil War, 4.5 million emancipated slaves faced a promising yet dangerous new world. Where would they go? How would they make a living? Who could they trust? For one young girl, the answers to those questions led her away from the only home she had known and the only person who had ever loved her. In her new book, To Walk About in Freedom: The Long Emancipation of Priscilla Joyner, Carole Emberton traces that girl’s physical and emotional journey from slavery to freedom.
By typical historical standards, Priscilla Joyner was a nobody. Barely literate, the mother of thirteen children, she did what most poor black women did in the Jim Crow South: she got by. Yet her life story, dictated to a worker for the Federal Writers’ Project in the 1930s, opens a new window onto the lives of the charter generation of ex-slaves who came of age during the Civil War and Reconstruction. Priscilla Joyner experienced slavery’s destruction first hand and carried the joys and pain of emancipation with her for the rest of her life.
To Walk About in Freedom is Priscilla’s story—a sobering tale about the legacies of interracial sex, exploitation, and family conflict that long outlived the institution of slavery itself. But by exploring the legacies of Reconstruction, it is a story that will challenge readers to think anew about the consequences of failing to reckon with the afterlife of slavery and civil war.
Published by W. W. Norton & Co.
Praise for To Walk About in Freedom
Emberton creates an illuminating view of the daily struggles and triumphs that characterized African Americans’ ‘long emancipation’….An insightful, poignant consideration of a representative figure’s negotiation of liberty in the decades after Emancipation.
― Kirkus Reviews
… sheds light on the promise and peril of emancipation while testifying to the “power of a single life to amplify the contours of history.” Readers will gain valuable insight into the “long afterlife” of slavery in America.
― Publishers Weekly
Deft and revealing…Emberton’s sensitive and sympathetic recovery of Joyner’s story speaks volumes on what freedom meant and might mean.
― Library Journal
To Walk About in Freedom is truly a must read for anyone interested in seeing not only the nation’s racial past in a fresh light thanks to Emberton’s brilliant re-mining, re-excavation, re-reading, and re-interpretation of the lives of the newly freed, but also in being able to come to all previous renderings of it better informed and to view them with a far more critical gaze.
― Heather Ann Thompson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Blood in the Water