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.
Sweet Taste of Liberty 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, it is a portrait of an extraordinary woman and a searing reminder of the lessons of her story as Americans continue to debate reparations for slavery.Advance praise:
"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
"This is one of the best books I have ever read. Using an extraordinary archival discovery, Caleb McDaniel expertly weaves together the life of Henrietta Wood, a woman enslaved in Kentucky and Louisiana, freed in Ohio, enslaved again, this time illegally, in Mississippi and Texas, and then freed again by the Civil War. McDaniel narrates Wood’s life in both slavery and freedom, and her determined pursuit of justice and reparations. More than simply a biography, here is a work of profound analysis, layered with a deep knowledge of slavery, emancipation, and the law. It raises the most profound questions about the debt that the United States owes to the people whose unfree labor in large part constructed it. Sweet Taste of Liberty is a masterpiece."—Gregory P. DownsMore information is available here. You can listen to an interview with Professor McDaniel about the book here, at the New Books Network.
-- Karen Tani