Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for History
The unforgettable saga of one enslaved woman's fight for justice--and reparations
Born into slavery, Henrietta Wood was taken to Cincinnati and legally freed in 1848. In 1853, a Kentucky deputy sheriff named Zebulon Ward colluded with Wood's employer, abducted her, and sold her back into bondage. She remained enslaved throughout the Civil War, giving birth to a son in Mississippi and never forgetting who had put her in this position.
By 1869, Wood had obtained her freedom for a second time and returned to Cincinnati, where she sued Ward for damages in 1870. Astonishingly, after eight years of litigation, Wood won her case: in 1878, a Federal jury awarded her $2,500. The decision stuck on appeal. More important than the amount, though the largest ever awarded by an American court in restitution for slavery, was the fact that any money was awarded at all. By the time the case was decided, Ward had become a wealthy businessman and a pioneer of convict leasing in the South. Wood's son later became a prominent Chicago lawyer, and she went on to live until 1912.
McDaniel's book is an epic tale of a black woman who survived slavery twice and who achieved more than merely a moral victory over one of her oppressors. Above all, Sweet Taste of Liberty is a portrait of an extraordinary individual as well as a searing reminder of the lessons of her story, which establish beyond question the connections between slavery and the prison system that rose in its place.
In this gripping study, Rice University historian McDaniel recounts the painful but triumphant story of one enslaved woman's long fight for justice. Henrietta Wood, born into bondage, was freed by her owner in 1848. Seven years later, she was kidnapped and reenslaved by Kentucky horse breeder Zebulon Ward, and did not regain her freedom until the end of the Civil War. Wood was determined to gain compensation for her additional years of servitude and for the fact that her son Arthur had been born into slavery, and sued Ward in 1868. Nearly a decade later, Wood was victorious; although the $2,500 in damages the court awarded her were far less than she had requested, the funds, "the largest known ever awarded by a U.S. court in restitution for slavery," helped to establish Arthur as a lawyer in Chicago. The two extensive interviews Wood gave to reporters during her lawsuit illuminate her remarkable life. Nearly a century after Wood's lawsuit, McDaniel recounts, Martin Luther King warned his supporters that the civil rights project would remain incomplete until African-Americans gained economic as well as political equality, and that any such improvements must be "demanded by the oppressed." McDaniel tells this story engrossingly and accessibly. This is a valuable contribution to Reconstruction history with clear relevance to current debates about reparations for slavery. Photos.
Sweet Taste of Liberty
Amazing story, a real page turner, in such rich detail, it is hard to believe it is all based on historical documents. Beautifully written.