Lawrence P. Jackson ’90 is the author of My Father’s Name: A Black Virginia Family after the Civil War (University of Chicago Press). Part detective story and part wrenching family history, the book delves into the history of Jackson’s family in slavery and emancipation in Virginia’s Pittsylvania County.
Johnson’s publication was recently featured on NPR’s All Things Considered. This summer, n+ magazine,a publication of literature, culture and politics, will include a long essay with sections from the book.
Jackson’s research led him to the house of distant relations. He then became absorbed by the search for his ancestors and aware of how few generations an African American needs to map back in order to arrive at slavery, “a door of no return.” Jackson delved into libraries, census records, and courthouse registries and traced his family to his grandfather’s grandfather, a man who was born or sold into slavery but who, when Federal troops abandoned the South in 1877, was able to buy 40 acres of land.
Jackson’s book vividly reconstructs moments in the lives of his father’s grandfather, Edward Jackson, and great-grandfather, Granville Hundley, and gives life to revealing narratives of Pittsylvania County, recalling both the horror of slavery and the later struggles of postbellum freedom. The story told is one of haunting familiarity to many Americans, who may question whether the promises of emancipation have ever truly been fulfilled.
Jackson is a professor of English and African-American studies at Emory University, where he specializes in African-American literature and literary history. His previous book, The Indignant Generation: A Narrative History of African American Writers and Critics, 1934–1960 (Princeton University Press), won the Modern Language Association’s William Sanders Scarborough Award for black literature in 2011. He is currently writing a full-length biography of the African-American writer Chester Himes.