What does one contested account of an enslaved woman tell us
about our difficult racial past? Part history, part anthropology,
and part detective story, The Accidental Slaveowner
traces, from the 1850s to the present day, how different groups of
people have struggled with one powerful story about slavery.
For over a century and a half, residents of Oxford, Georgia
("the birthplace of Emory University"), have told and retold
stories of the enslaved woman known as "Kitty" and her owner,
Methodist bishop James Osgood Andrew, first president of Emory's
board of trustees. Bishop Andrew's ownership of Miss Kitty and
other enslaved persons triggered the 1844 great national schism of
the Methodist Episcopal Church, presaging the Civil War. For many
local whites, Bishop Andrew was only "accidentally" a slaveholder,
and when offered her freedom, Kitty willingly remained in slavery
out of loyalty to her master. Local African Americans, in contrast,
tend to insist that Miss Kitty was the Bishop's coerced lover and
that she was denied her basic freedoms throughout her life.
Mark Auslander approaches these opposing narratives as "myths,"
not as falsehoods but as deeply meaningful and resonant accounts
that illuminate profound enigmas in American history and culture.
After considering the multiple, powerful ways that the Andrew-Kitty
myths have shaped perceptions of race in Oxford, at Emory, and
among southern Methodists, Auslander sets out to uncover the "real"
story of Kitty and her family. His years-long feat of collaborative
detective work results in a series of discoveries and helps open up
important arenas for reconciliation, restorative justice, and
Subjects: History, Sociology
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