A Simple Cotton Sack: A Conversation about African American Women, Trauma, and Resistance | Newberry

A Simple Cotton Sack: A Conversation about African American Women, Trauma, and Resistance

Tiya Miles and Megan Sweeney
Thursday, February 3, 2022

6 - 7 pm

Virtual event - register now
Open to the Public
Conversations at the Newberry

This program will be held virtually on Zoom. Please register for free in advance here.

NOTE: You can also watch a live stream of the program on the Newberry Facebook page or YouTube channel.

In a display case at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture sat a rough cotton bag, known as “Ashley’s sack.” The bag was embroidered with a remembrance that evokes a sweeping family story of loss and of love, passed down through generations: 

My great grandmother Rose
mother of Ashley gave her this sack when
she was sold at age 9 in South Carolina
it held a tattered dress 3 handfulls of
pecans a braid of Roses hair. Told her
It be filled with my Love always
she never saw her again
Ashley is my grandmother

— Ruth Middleton, 1921

Rose’s gift to Ashley inspired historian Tiya Miles to carefully unearth these women’s faint presence in archival records. She follows the paths of their lives—and the lives of so many women like them—in her most recent book, All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake. This revelatory history of the experience of slavery and the uncertain freedom afterward in the United States won the 2021 National Book Award for Nonfiction.

In this installment of “Conversations at the Newberry,” Tiya Miles will be joined by Megan Sweeney, whose lyric essays and writings on African American literature and incarceration also engage with material culture. Their conversation will focus on the ways that women exercise agency under significant constraints and find meaning and beauty amid pain.

Tiya Miles is Professor of History at Harvard University, Radcliffe Alumnae Professor at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute, and Director of the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History at Harvard.

Megan Sweeney is Arthur F. Thurnau Associate Professor of English, Afroamerican and African Studies, and Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Michigan.

Purchase All that She Carried online from the Newberry Bookshop.

Conversations at the Newberry” are generously sponsored by Sue and Melvin Gray.

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Cost and Registration Information 

This virtual event is free and open to all. Reserve your free tickets now