Sweet Taste of Liberty: Book summary and reviews of Sweet Taste of Liberty by W.Caleb McDaniel

Sweet Taste of Liberty

A True Story of Slavery and Restitution in America

by W.Caleb McDaniel

Sweet Taste of Liberty by W.Caleb McDaniel X
Sweet Taste of Liberty by W.Caleb McDaniel
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Book Summary

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.

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Book Awards

  • award image Pulitzer Prize Winners, 2020

Reviews

Media Reviews

"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." - Publishers Weekly

"McDaniel renders an enthralling biography of a determined, resilient woman... A well-researched, well-told story that also contributes to the debate about reparations." - Library Journal

"[A] superbly written chronicle ... . rich with vivid personalities and unexpected turns." - Wall Street Journal

"Through painstaking archival research, Bell and McDaniel have reconstructed their lives with such vivid detail, sensitivity, and riveting storytelling that you would think each of their figures left us whole autobiographies. For the simple act of recovering their stories, both books would be commendable. But what makes them essential reading is the larger questions they demand of us as readers: What exactly was the condition under which un-enslaved black people lived before emancipation--and what is it that they and their descendants are owed?" - The New Republic

"W. Caleb McDaniel tells a breathless tale with an ominously dark feel through many of its pages, because the monsters here were real. Yes, it's a complicated tale that races from north to south, but the righteous audacity that ultimately occurred in Ohio in 1870 makes it worthwhile, fist-pumping, and satisfying. Historians, of course, will want Sweet Taste of Liberty. Feminists shouldn't miss it. Folks with an opinion on reparations should find it. All of you will want to take it home." - Miami Times

"A deeply rich story... This beautifully written book is a must read." - Civil War Monitor

"Sweet Taste of Liberty uses the past so show how the open wounds of slavery still exist." - The Advocate

"Sweet Taste of Liberty is a masterpiece. Using an extraordinary archival discovery, McDaniel expertly weaves a compelling, fine-grained narrative of the extraordinary life of Henrietta Wood... . But this is not simply a biography. It also a work of profound analysis, layered with McDaniel's deep knowledge of slavery, emancipation, and the law. The book raises the most profound questions about slavery, reparations, and the debt that the United States owes to the people whose unfree labor constructed a great deal of that nation." - Gregory P. Downs, author of The Second American Revolution: The Civil War-Era Struggle over Cuba and the Rebirth of the American Republic

"As America grapples with reparations for slavery, Caleb McDaniel unearths the astounding story of a woman who survived bondage, twice, and fought for restitution against impossible odds. In lucid and vivid prose, he brings us a chilling, inspiring, and timely examination of both the necessity and complexity of redressing historical crimes." - Tony Horwitz, author of Confederates in the Attic and Spying on the South

"Henrietta Wood's quest to be made whole by seeking reparations from the man who kidnapped and re-enslaved her is a heart-tugging page-turner. With fidelity to the historical record and insight into the emotions that run through it, Caleb McDaniel's Sweet Taste of Liberty tells how enslaved women lived along the jagged lines that divided house and field, city and countryside, North and South, and slavery and freedom. Her triumph is a tribute to one woman's persistence, courage, legal savvy, and an enduring devotion to family-its lessons for us are timeless." - Martha S. Jones, Society of Black Alumni Presidential Professor, Johns Hopkins University, author of Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America

This information about Sweet Taste of Liberty was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

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More Information

W. Caleb McDaniel is a historian of the nineteenth-century United States and the author of the prize-winning book, The Problem of Democracy in the Age of Slavery. A native Texan, he received his Ph.D in 2006 from the Johns Hopkins University and now teaches at Rice University in Houston.

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