I just get my pistol and shoot him right down

Eric Foner

  • The Weeping Time: Memory and the Largest Slave Auction in American History by Anne C. Bailey
    Cambridge, 197 pp, £19.99, November 2017, ISBN 978 1 316 64348 8

In pre-Civil War fugitive slave narratives – memoirs written by men and, occasionally, women who had escaped to freedom and hoped to convert readers to the cause of abolition – the most heart-rending passages described slave auctions and the separation of families that usually ensued. When the abolitionist journalist and underground railroad activist Sydney Howard Gay interviewed fugitives who passed through his office in New York City in the 1850s he found that the threat of sale was a major reason for the decision to run away.

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[*] The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations and Reconciliation after the Genome by Alondra Nelson (Beacon, 216 pp., £17.99, September 2016, 978 0 8070 2718 9).