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AfriGeneas Books~Authors~Reviews Forum

The Sweet Hell Inside : Review
In Response To: Ed Ball Has New Book ()

As Edward Ball writes, "Family history is history in miniature."

by Steven Harvey for the AJC

In his National Book Award-winning "Slaves in the Family" (1998), Ball
told the story of the black half of his otherwise white family tree, which
forked sometime in the slavery South after a liaison between a slave
and master. What he discovered in his family's saga was the neglected
story of America's mixed-race history, a story~ that needed to be told.

Now he has written a second installment, "The Sweet Hell Inside," which
chronicles the remarkable Harleston family, of Charleston, S.C., and once
again opens our eyes to the trials and triumphs of America's multiracial past.

Ball learned about the Harlestons from Edward Harleston Whitlock, an 85-year old black woman who lives in Atlanta. (Her daughter, Mae Gentry,
is a staff writer for the Journal-Constitution-) Ball's sixth cousin twice removed, Whitlock initially contacted him while he was researching his first book. Ultimately,she convinced him that the story of her family deserved to be written, too.

Like the first book, "The Sweet Hell Inside" begins with the relationship between
a slave, Kate Wilson, and a slave owner, William Harleston. What sets, the new book apart, though, is the genius and talent of the later generations spawned by this couple - black people who made stunning achievements despite the odds,
particularly in the arts.

One of the daughters married the Rev. David Jenkins, the founder of an orphanage that produced musicians who played key roles in early Amerian jazz. Their son, Jenks Jenkins, was an important jazz innovator who lived in London, and some of
the orphans, like Tabbo Smith, became jazz greats themselves.

Another family member~ Teddy Harleston, was the finest portrait painter in Charleston. His father, an indomitable undertaker called "the Captain," saw little value in art but reluctantly allowed Teddy to go , to Harvard to study. Eventually
Teddy returned to Charleston, married, a woman who became a pioneering photographer and the couple made room between the captain's cadavers for
creating art. The book is rich in individual tales, but this touching love story of Elise and Teddy Harleston is particularly well-drawn.

In the course of telling the story of all these artists, Ball also gives a history of America through the eyes of black Southerners.

We learn about lynchings and Plessy vs. Ferguson and Jim Crow. We have vignettes about minstrel shows and W.C. Handy and Tin Pan Alley. We have a tour of Europe as blacks serve in segregated troops in World War 1. And we come to understand how "Porgy" got its start in the music of the Jenkins Orphanage band.

But all history is family history - that is Ball's thesis - and what makes this book compelling is the way we can trace these seminal events through the generations of a family we come to know and care about, a family caught in the mesh of America's racial confusions.

[ permission to post requested ]

Messages In This Thread

Ed Ball Has New Book
The Sweet Hell Inside *PIC*
The Sweet Hell Inside : Review
Re: Ed Ball Has New Book

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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