Summary and book reviews of All That She Carried by Tiya Miles

All That She Carried

The Journey of Ashley's Sack, a Black Family Keepsake

by Tiya Miles

All That She Carried by Tiya Miles X
All That She Carried by Tiya Miles
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  • Published:
    Jun 2021, 416 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Valerie Morales
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About this Book

Book Summary

A renowned historian traces the life of a single object handed down through three generations of Black women to craft an extraordinary testament to people who are left out of the archives.

In 1850s South Carolina, an enslaved woman named Rose faced a crisis, the imminent sale of her daughter Ashley. Thinking quickly, she packed a cotton bag with a few precious items as a token of love and to try to ensure Ashley's survival. Soon after, the nine-year-old girl was separated from her mother and sold.

Decades later, Ashley's granddaughter Ruth embroidered this family history on the bag in spare yet haunting language—including Rose's wish that "It be filled with my Love always." Ruth's sewn words, the reason we remember Ashley's sack today, evoke a sweeping family story of loss and of love passed down through generations. Now, in this illuminating, deeply moving new book inspired by Rose's gift to Ashley, historian Tiya Miles carefully unearths these women's faint presence in archival records to follow the paths of their lives—and the lives of so many women like them—to write a singular and revelatory history of the experience of slavery, and the uncertain freedom afterward, in the United States.

The search to uncover this history is part of the story itself. For where the historical record falls short of capturing Rose's, Ashley's, and Ruth's full lives, Miles turns to objects and to art as equally important sources, assembling a chorus of women's and families' stories and critiquing the scant archives that for decades have overlooked so many. The contents of Ashley's sack— a tattered dress, handfuls of pecans, a braid of hair, "my Love always"—are eloquent evidence of the lives these women lived. As she follows Ashley's journey, Miles metaphorically unpacks the bag, deepening its emotional resonance and exploring the meanings and significance of everything it contained.

All That She Carried is a poignant story of resilience and of love passed down through generations of women against steep odds. It honors the creativity and fierce resourcefulness of people who preserved family ties even when official systems refused to do so, and it serves as a visionary illustration of how to reconstruct and recount their stories today.

Chapter 1
Ruth's Record

"My great-grandmama told my grandmama the part she lived through that my grandmama didn't live through and my grandmama told my mama what they both lived through and my mama told me what they all lived through and we were suppose to pass it down like that from generation to generation so we'd never forget."

—Gayl Jones, Corregidora, 1975

"Then I found the slave lists. There were bundles of them, in thick sheaves, each sheaf containing a stack. When a rice planter handed out shoes, he wrote down the names of who got them. To pay taxes, he made an inventory of his human property. If he bought fabric so people could make clothes, he noted how many yards were given to each person. When a woman gave birth, the date and name of the child appeared."

—Edward Ball, Slaves in the Family, 1998

As a young woman with modest means and few prospects, Ruth Middleton transformed her life by moving north. Taking a leap into the unknown as a Black woman in the 1910s ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

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The conversation that should be had after viewing Ashley's Sack is how black women slaves transferred love despite living through perversions, violence and endless work. How they desired freedom even as they didn't expect it. How they maneuvered, saved one another, sewed up wounds and mothered. It is these conversations Tiya Miles has triggered with this holy work. Rose was a tender mother, and that is at the heart of Miles' story, which is enormous not because of its 400+ pages but because of its artifacts, tales, tragedy and atrocities. Peeling back the racial onion is a sacred act of resistance. The heroism alone of how Rose loved a child when she herself was damaged is beautiful...continued

Full Review Members Only (1105 words).

(Reviewed by Valerie Morales).

Media Reviews

Booklist (starred review)
A riveting account of how Ashley's sack was rediscovered and traces Ruth's journey through the Great Migration while exploring the family's lineage. Filled with rare, archival photographs of objects from the era, this volume is a natural choice for book clubs and a must-buy for public and academic libraries alike.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
MacArthur fellow Miles paints an evocative portrait of slavery and Black family life in this exquisitely crafted history...This elegant narrative is a treasure trove of insight and emotion.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"[A] brilliant and compassionate account...With careful historical examination as well as empathetic imagination, Miles effectively demonstrates the dignity and mystery of lives that history often neglects and opens the door to the examination of many untold stories. A strikingly vivid account of the impact of connection on this family and others.

Author Blurb David W. Blight, Yale University, author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom
All That She Carried is a moving literary and visual experience about love between a mother and daughter and about many women descendants down through the years. Above all it is Miles's lyrical story, written in her signature penetrating prose, about the power of objects and memory, as well as human endurance, in the history of slavery. Ashley's sack carries us into another world as it reveals our own. The book is nothing short of a revelation.

Author Blurb Michael Eric Dyson, author of Long Time Coming: Reckoning with Race in America
We live in a world that undervalues, ignores, and erases the work and the humanity of Black women. Ashley's Sack, as it is known, with its short and simple message of intergenerational love, becomes a portal through which Tiya Miles views and reimagines the inner lives of Black women. She excavates the history of Black women who face insurmountable odds and invent a language that can travel across time.

Author Blurb Brittney Cooper, author of Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower
Tiya Miles uses the tools of her trade to tend to Black people, to Black mothers and daughters, to our wounds, to collective Black love and loss. This book demonstrates Miles's signature genius in its rare balance of both rigor and care.

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Beyond the Book

Artifacts at the National Museum of African American History and Culture

Ashley's Sack The three-tiered National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, D.C. embraces the rich history of slaves and their descendants. The museum opened in 2016, displaying thousands of artifacts illustrating the experience of the unfree, and the emancipated, including Ashley's Sack (which will be on display next at the International African American Museum in Charleston, South Carolina), the history of which is covered by Tiya Miles in the book All That She Carried. The achievements of African American scholars, entrepreneurs, scientists, athletes, musicians, writers and politicians, plus the objects that reflected their experience and memory, lined the upper tiers of the Yoruba-inspired building.

Ashley's ...

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