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Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award The Hairstons is the extraordinary story of the largest family in America, the Hairston clan. With several thousand black and white members, the Hairstons share a complex and compelling history: divided in the time of slavery, they have come to embrace their past as one family. The black family's story is most exceptional. It Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award The Hairstons is the extraordinary story of the largest family in America, the Hairston clan. With several thousand black and white members, the Hairstons share a complex and compelling history: divided in the time of slavery, they have come to embrace their past as one family. The black family's story is most exceptional. It is the account of the rise of a remarkable people—the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of slaves—who took their rightful place in mainstream America. In contrast, it has been the fate of the white family—once one of the wealthiest in America—to endure the decline and fall of the Old South, and to become an apparent metaphor for that demise. But the family's fall from grace is only part of the tale. Beneath the surface lay a hidden history—the history of slavery's curse and how that curse plagued slaveholders for generations. For the past seven years, journalist Wiencek has listened raptly to the tales of hundreds of Hairston relatives, including the aging scions of both the white and black clans. He has crisscrossed the old plantation country in Virginia, North Carolina, and Mississippi to seek out the descendants of slaves. Visiting family reunions, interviewing family members, and exploring old plantations, Wiencek combs the far-reaching branches of the Hairston family tree to gather anecdotes from members about their ancestors and piece together a family history that involves the experiences of both plantation owners and their slaves. He expertly weaves the Hairstons' stories from all sides of historical events like slave emancipation, Reconstruction, school segregation, and lynching. Paradoxically, Wiencek demonstrates that these families found that the way to come to terms with the past was to embrace it, and this lyrical work, a parable of redemption, may in the end serve as a vital contribution to our nation's attempt to undo the twisted historical legacy of the past.


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Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award The Hairstons is the extraordinary story of the largest family in America, the Hairston clan. With several thousand black and white members, the Hairstons share a complex and compelling history: divided in the time of slavery, they have come to embrace their past as one family. The black family's story is most exceptional. It Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award The Hairstons is the extraordinary story of the largest family in America, the Hairston clan. With several thousand black and white members, the Hairstons share a complex and compelling history: divided in the time of slavery, they have come to embrace their past as one family. The black family's story is most exceptional. It is the account of the rise of a remarkable people—the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of slaves—who took their rightful place in mainstream America. In contrast, it has been the fate of the white family—once one of the wealthiest in America—to endure the decline and fall of the Old South, and to become an apparent metaphor for that demise. But the family's fall from grace is only part of the tale. Beneath the surface lay a hidden history—the history of slavery's curse and how that curse plagued slaveholders for generations. For the past seven years, journalist Wiencek has listened raptly to the tales of hundreds of Hairston relatives, including the aging scions of both the white and black clans. He has crisscrossed the old plantation country in Virginia, North Carolina, and Mississippi to seek out the descendants of slaves. Visiting family reunions, interviewing family members, and exploring old plantations, Wiencek combs the far-reaching branches of the Hairston family tree to gather anecdotes from members about their ancestors and piece together a family history that involves the experiences of both plantation owners and their slaves. He expertly weaves the Hairstons' stories from all sides of historical events like slave emancipation, Reconstruction, school segregation, and lynching. Paradoxically, Wiencek demonstrates that these families found that the way to come to terms with the past was to embrace it, and this lyrical work, a parable of redemption, may in the end serve as a vital contribution to our nation's attempt to undo the twisted historical legacy of the past.

30 review for The Hairstons: An American Family in Black and White

  1. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    This is a really wonderful book and a truly important story. I was a bit nervous when I picked it up from the library--I knew the author's main area of research was old Southern mansions and plantation architecture, which had me a little apprehensive that he might be one of those Northerners who just love the "romance" of the antebellum South. And then I was also worried, based on the subject matter, that this might be one of those annoying, naive, peace-and-reconciliation, racism-was-bad-but-ge This is a really wonderful book and a truly important story. I was a bit nervous when I picked it up from the library--I knew the author's main area of research was old Southern mansions and plantation architecture, which had me a little apprehensive that he might be one of those Northerners who just love the "romance" of the antebellum South. And then I was also worried, based on the subject matter, that this might be one of those annoying, naive, peace-and-reconciliation, racism-was-bad-but-gee-what-an-American-tale-of-uplifting-social-change sorts of stories. But I was so incredibly and pleasantly surprised by this book. It is well-written, impeccably researched, and respectful of both the black and white sides of the family. Wiencek doesn't romanticize or demonize but instead approaches every story with nuance and honesty. He treats his subjects with such humanity and acknowledges how deeply personal this history is. And on top of all that, he is a lovely writer and this book is well-organized and very readable. It wasn't perfect--Wiencek focuses almost exclusively on the black Hairstons in the second half of the book (which covers the twentieth century)...this is understandable as the black Hairstons' stories of segregation, white terrorism, service in the segregated WWII army, and civil rights activism are likely more interesting than the usual old Southern gentry lives lived by the white Hairstons. But I still would have liked to have gotten a better understanding of what the white Hairstons were up to from the 1930s to the 1980s. Wiencek could also occasionally be a little bit overly sentimental in his writing--having dreams about the "lost" Chryllis Hairston, and so on. But honestly, this book was good enough that I easily overlooked those minor complaints. Read this book. It's good. It's important. It's honest.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Beth

    4.5 Stars This book is about the history of a white slaveholding family in the American South, and their slaves. The white family, pronounced (Harston), share their history and their name with many of the descendents of their black slaves, who pronounce the name as written. The Hairstons owned plantations from Virginia to South Carolina and held as many as ten thousand slaves. Samuel Hairston of Oak Hill plantation, was probably the richest man in Virginia and possibly the United States in his li 4.5 Stars This book is about the history of a white slaveholding family in the American South, and their slaves. The white family, pronounced (Harston), share their history and their name with many of the descendents of their black slaves, who pronounce the name as written. The Hairstons owned plantations from Virginia to South Carolina and held as many as ten thousand slaves. Samuel Hairston of Oak Hill plantation, was probably the richest man in Virginia and possibly the United States in his lifetime, and possessed land and slaves worth $5 million. He was also reputedly the largest slaveholder in the South. Yet despite this expansive and wealthy history, the white family has faded away. Few of the plantation homes still exist and even fewer are still owned and operated by Hairstons. Just like the American South that they symbolize, their wealth and possessions withered and disappeared. Despite my general interest in history of the American South, my interest in this book was largely personal. I was raised and now still live and work in Martinsville, Virginia, which is surrounded by Henry County. Henry County and Martinsville were once almost exclusively Hairston land; indeed the historic Martinsville Court House was built on land donated by the Hairstons. Each day on my way to work, I drive past the imposing Berry Hill Plantation home. I run almost daily on Sam Lion's Trail, named for Sam Lion, a runaway slave belonging to the Hairston family. As a child, I swam in Chatmoss Country Club's pool, named for the remains of Chatmoss plantation, upon which it stands. On my way out of town, I pass over Marrowbone creek and I know many who graduated from Magna Vista High School, both Hairston plantation names. And I know many Hairstons locally - the phone book is crowded with the name - descendants of Hairston slaves who adopted the name when they gained their freedom. It amazes me that, while some of this history is still known at a minimum level locally, the main thing that survives the white Hairstons are names. I loved the first half of this book, which details the Hairstons in their hey day before the Civil War. Wiencek details the family history much in the order in which he researched it, moving geographically from plantation to plantation. I was somewhat relieved that there isn't a lot of pressure on the reader to remember the tangled web of the family tree, which is complicated by cousins marrying cousins, not unlike that of European royal families, as the white Hairstons fought to keep land and riches within the family name. While Wiencek's organization is not chronological or clearly defined by anything other than his physical journey, I don't think any better way could be devised to organize the complicated story he tells. My favorite aspects of this tale, aside from my avid interest in learning more about my community's history, were on the stories of individual Hairstons - from that of the Hairston who left his fortune and land to his half-black daughter who then disappeared, smuggled away by the white Hairston clan, to the descendent of a Hairston slave who became an actor and was on film with John Wayne and others. It seems that almost all of the Hairstons Wiencek interviewed were candid about their history, including that of black and white relationships and any remaining resentment over past grievances. My interest waned somewhat in the second half of the book. There is a lengthy chapter following the exploits and hardships of a black Hairston during the Civil War, the details of which dragged for me. Also, as the family became scattered, and the fortune disappeared, the story is less grounded and less about the "Hairstons" and more about disparate individuals who are scattered across the country. I think this more modern account is necessary to see where the intertwined families are now, but it held my interest less. Overall, a great work of non-fiction about the complicated race relations in the American South, the rise and fall of a virtual empire built on the labor of slaves, and the aftermath of slavery and the transition into a new relationships between two branches of a very intertwined family.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Cheri

    I saw this book on display at the library during Black History month and just had to check it out as my husband's uncle is a HAIRSTON and I'm a genealogist. It was fascinating. Only then did I learn from his uncle that they had heard stories all their lives about this! At one point in history, the daughter of one of the slave holders and the forbidden love between his mistress at the height of the Civil War threatens to leave her the heiress to the wealthiest family in America! It's a fascinatin I saw this book on display at the library during Black History month and just had to check it out as my husband's uncle is a HAIRSTON and I'm a genealogist. It was fascinating. Only then did I learn from his uncle that they had heard stories all their lives about this! At one point in history, the daughter of one of the slave holders and the forbidden love between his mistress at the height of the Civil War threatens to leave her the heiress to the wealthiest family in America! It's a fascinating read - a historian's hunt that reads like a fast-paced novel.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Connie Ciampanelli

    "It’s amazing to me why we keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back. It’s really so sad." -NBA Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers on the shooting of Jacob Blake, the Republican National convention, police brutality, and being black in America "...it was the destiny of the black Hairstons to enact the exodus embedded in our national story--the...rise of the African-Americans from the dust of slavery...What kind of people could endure such evil and still cling to the count "It’s amazing to me why we keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back. It’s really so sad." -NBA Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers on the shooting of Jacob Blake, the Republican National convention, police brutality, and being black in America "...it was the destiny of the black Hairstons to enact the exodus embedded in our national story--the...rise of the African-Americans from the dust of slavery...What kind of people could endure such evil and still cling to the country that dispensed it?" -Henry Wiencek in The Hairstons: An American Family in Black and White. (1999) * * * I could not help but reflect on these words from Doc Rivers' recent (August, 2020) heart-wrenching speech as I read Wiencek's fascinating, engrossing, heart-breaking yet ultimately uplifting story of the Hariston family, a family, white and black, whose origins emanate from a rebellious Scotsman, Peter "The Immigrant" Hairston. Peter brought his family to America in 1729, landing in Pennsylvania but eventually settling in Virginia, where the family became tobacco planters and acquired slaves. The Hairstons is an impeccably researched historical tale that reads like a spell-binding novel. Peter's descendants became one of the richest families in American, establishing more than a dozen plantations throughout Virginia and North Carolina, it's various Hairston owners the masters of more slaves than almost any other family in the South. In his Introduction, Wiencek explains, "Beneath the layers of lies and myth existed a story the slaveholders and their descendants had kept hidden for almost a century and a half. It was not a story of horror, but of love and heroism powerful enough to shake the myth of the South. In the end, the story of these [black and white Hariston] families is a parable of redemption. It is about the universal human struggle to come to terms with the past. Paradoxically, these families found that one way to transcend the past is to embrace it." Wiencek, and the late twentieth century Hairston descendants, probe profoundly important questions, some of which can never be fully answered, about their ancestors' relationships and how it affects those who followed, about slavery itself and its legacy, about segregation and inequality. In writing a book such as this, it can be tricky for the author to insert himself into the story. Objectivity can be lost, interpretations skewed. Yet as in Ron Suskind's A Hope in the Unseen, Wiencek is successful. An critical piece of this puzzle is the author's indefatigable research, both in unearthing documents and letters, photos and artifacts, and well as his several years of interviews with family members, the white Hairstons (who pronounce their name the Scottish way, "Harston," and black Hairstons, who pronounce it as written). Willing cooperation from all segments of the Hairston family filled in countless gaps, as did some serendipitous discoveries. A complex family tree, generations long, crossing the racial divide, the same names used many times over, nearly royalty-like intermarriages to keep the property within the family (At one point, a widowed mother who married her son-in-law's brother, became her own daughter's sister-in-law, one brother becoming then, father-in-law to his own brother), can be confusing, but Wiencek is successful in keeping the careful reader apprised. Wiencek also succeeds in bringing to life countless Hairstons, many about whom a full book could be written on them alone. Among them are: -Ruth Stovall Hairston, a tough businesswoman who keep the plantation thriving even after her husband's death in 1813. -"Plain" Robert Hairston, the slave owner who could not abide the "peculiar institution," and who left his family in North Carolina to live with blacks in Mississippi. He holds the key to a long buried mystery. -Jester Hairston, who found work as an extra in Hollywood movies, as a film composer, as a choir director. He was a college graduate who returned to his roots, keeping alive the music of his heritage. -Joseph Henry Hairston, raised in the North, who after joining the Army during WWII faced a deeper level of racial discrimination during basic training in the South and serving under a racist commander. -John L. Hairston, a high school teacher and principal, who made a difficult personal choice that had a profound effect on his home town. -Ever Lee Hairston, who knew in her soul that there was a better way of life than picking cotton as a sharecropper. She embarks on her own through a journey to that betterment, and she fearlessly confronts a white relative. -Peter Wilson Hairston, late twentieth century owner of the largest plantation, Cooleemee. Wanting to get to the truth, he unfailingly answered Wiencek's probing questions. He restored his family home and also wrote his family history. The family's stories are boundless and they are endlessly fascinating. No matter how many books are written about the Civil War, the South, and slavery, there are always new perspectives, compelling, captivating stories that help us to understand the past. The Hairstons in one of them. Highly recommended

  5. 4 out of 5

    Joe Keefhaver

    It took me awhile to warm to this book, but it became more interesting when the author established the biological link between at least some of the white and black Hairstons. The stories from the years of the Civil War and Reconstruction, as well as World War II, were intriguing. Although Reconstruction failed on most fronts, it was rewarding to read about how many well-meaning individuals sought to lift the lot of the recently freed African-Americans. After serving so bravely and effectively in It took me awhile to warm to this book, but it became more interesting when the author established the biological link between at least some of the white and black Hairstons. The stories from the years of the Civil War and Reconstruction, as well as World War II, were intriguing. Although Reconstruction failed on most fronts, it was rewarding to read about how many well-meaning individuals sought to lift the lot of the recently freed African-Americans. After serving so bravely and effectively in the Civil War and World War I, it was a travesty to once again hear how poorly our nation treated black soldiers during World War II. I will never regard George Marshall and certain other World War II era leaders in exactly the same way.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Graceann

    Henry Wiencek was perhaps the perfect person to take on the frankly daunting task of telling this family's story, and telling it well. He has written on the American South numerous times and came to the project with the appropriate credentials. However, I suspect that even he was surprised by the amount of work involved in getting to the heart of the Hairstons. He was presented with family trees and stacks of documents that would give the most intrepid of genealogists migraines, conflicting fami Henry Wiencek was perhaps the perfect person to take on the frankly daunting task of telling this family's story, and telling it well. He has written on the American South numerous times and came to the project with the appropriate credentials. However, I suspect that even he was surprised by the amount of work involved in getting to the heart of the Hairstons. He was presented with family trees and stacks of documents that would give the most intrepid of genealogists migraines, conflicting family memories and, in some cases, silence on subjects that were still too painful for discussion. Peter "The Immigrant" Hairston arrived in America in 1729 and very shortly began to amass land and slaves. By the time of the Civil War, the Hairstons had grown to such a dynasty by dint of their inter-marriage, business savvy and human property that they were, it is said, the largest landowners in the South. What Wiencek determined when digging into the family history was that you could not tell the white and black stories separately, because they were intermingled in numerous ways not only through shared experiences, but shared bloodlines. We have the usual, deplorable practice of masters violating the black women on their plantations, but we also discover that there was at least one instance, and perhaps more, where a white Hairston lived in as close as was legal to a marriage with a black Hairston. That story is fascinating and frustrating, for both Wiencek and the reader. This is an amazing family. The descendants of the Hairston slaves have gone on to do things as diverse as work on the team that put Neil Armstrong on the moon, and act in films and compose music in Hollywood (remember the beautiful song Amen from Lilies in the Field? That was composed by a Hairston). The white Hairstons, meanwhile, have largely clung to the antebellum myth of moonlight and magnolias. I was particularly amused by one plantation owner's surprise and annoyance that former slaves chose to leave her when they were Emancipated. She honestly believed they would just continue to serve her. You'd need a shovel to get through that amount of denial and delusion.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Colleen

    The Hairston family is one of the largest clans in America. The family was once one of the wealthiest in the States, with numerous plantations covering huge swaths of the South up until the end of the Civil War. Needless to say, this wealth was built on the backs of the thousands of slaves that the family owned. Part of what makes this family history so interesting is that that Hairston clan consists of both black and white families, many of whom live close to each other. Ironically, while the wh The Hairston family is one of the largest clans in America. The family was once one of the wealthiest in the States, with numerous plantations covering huge swaths of the South up until the end of the Civil War. Needless to say, this wealth was built on the backs of the thousands of slaves that the family owned. Part of what makes this family history so interesting is that that Hairston clan consists of both black and white families, many of whom live close to each other. Ironically, while the white family members lost most of their land and fortunes after the Civil War, the black members found the strength to try to overcome the rampant racism of the South and even managed to buy parcels of land that had been part of the same plantations where their ancestors had been slaves. The author explores how the present day family members from both sides have come to terms with the family's bitter history of slavery, and how they feel towards one another. It was a little challenging at times following who was who (this is a HUGE family tree to follow!), but it was definitely worth the effort. This is not just the story of the Hairstons, but the story of all Americans as Wiencek gives both black and white perspectives on racism in the South and in America in general from the early 1800's to the present day. An excellent book!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Dale

    "I did not want to like this book." Each of us in my book group said this. Each of us loved it. For various reasons, we all loved it. I loved the genealogical aspect and stories that came up about these families. I loved the exquisite sense of history the author gave in analyzing the data he found through exhaustive search of records and interviews. Growing upin California in the 60s, I was caught up in the civil rights movement, if only vicariously. But I never understood it. I never really "go "I did not want to like this book." Each of us in my book group said this. Each of us loved it. For various reasons, we all loved it. I loved the genealogical aspect and stories that came up about these families. I loved the exquisite sense of history the author gave in analyzing the data he found through exhaustive search of records and interviews. Growing upin California in the 60s, I was caught up in the civil rights movement, if only vicariously. But I never understood it. I never really "got" what racism was, and how pervasive it is, even today. I was aware of stereotypes. But I did not live within the Jim Crow drama. The hate and violence was only something on the news and when integration of schools was accomplished through law enforcement, I guess, I thought it was over. Wiencek describes the era through black and white experience in the South, and now, 50 years later, I think I begin to "get it". I'm glad I read this. I think it is an important work. Highly recommend is you are interested in genealogical research, telling family stories, the civil rights movement, or Black history in AMerica.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    This is a book I revisit frequently, as I continue on my meandering, sidetracked route to understanding human motivation. Where better to try to understand the history of your country then in the history of a dynasty that tried to hide and/or profit from half of its family members? Wiencek does a hell of a job in getting people to talk to him--his persistence pays off in filling out the family history of the entire Hairston family. Don't just take my recommendation--this book got high praise from This is a book I revisit frequently, as I continue on my meandering, sidetracked route to understanding human motivation. Where better to try to understand the history of your country then in the history of a dynasty that tried to hide and/or profit from half of its family members? Wiencek does a hell of a job in getting people to talk to him--his persistence pays off in filling out the family history of the entire Hairston family. Don't just take my recommendation--this book got high praise from J. Yardley of the Washington Post Book World, and JY tightfisted with compliments and only hands them out when they are truly deserved. This book brought forth to me a well of information as well as a good demonstration of the researcher's process, how and where Wiencek went about gathering his source material.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Niknesha Q. Hairston

    My grandma had given me this book and asked me to read it because she wanted to know about our family. I was so busy that I never had time to read it. I just found the book in my grandma's things (she passed away 4 years ago) and decided I should read it. The book was so good. It delve deep into a family that practically built the south. Before I read this book I would always think that I was the black sheep of my family. No one thought like me or had the drive I do. But after reading this book My grandma had given me this book and asked me to read it because she wanted to know about our family. I was so busy that I never had time to read it. I just found the book in my grandma's things (she passed away 4 years ago) and decided I should read it. The book was so good. It delve deep into a family that practically built the south. Before I read this book I would always think that I was the black sheep of my family. No one thought like me or had the drive I do. But after reading this book I have learned that I come from a strong line of great people white and black. This book has sparked my interest into how I am connected to these people. I will pursue my family tree.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Bap

    A family descended from slave owners in the south side of Virginia and the piedmont of North Carolina both whites and blacks, It was a common name in Danville Virginia where I handled a death penalty case and one of the jurors on the case, a black man, was a Hairston. The black Hairstons appear to be on the ascendancy now but then again it is likely that there were many more of them than the slave masters in their half dozen plantations.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Michel

    One American family, as they have accepted each other, the blacks and the whites, through slavery, emancipation, segregation, discrimination, lynchings, reconciliation. A book to reread this year, when a Black man is running for President of the United States. Respectful, painful and joyful, and beautifully written.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Vainvt

    Thanks to a family weekend, I met Henry Wiencek and spent time talking to him. Otherwise, I don't think I would ever have read this book. The Hairstons revealed many things to me about the extreme wealth of this family; the 'ethical' nature of white families who did not sell their slaves; the plantations that were the result of both black and white labor, knowledge and experience; and the author's own understanding of the effects of slavery on black and white families. Wiencek uses his own path Thanks to a family weekend, I met Henry Wiencek and spent time talking to him. Otherwise, I don't think I would ever have read this book. The Hairstons revealed many things to me about the extreme wealth of this family; the 'ethical' nature of white families who did not sell their slaves; the plantations that were the result of both black and white labor, knowledge and experience; and the author's own understanding of the effects of slavery on black and white families. Wiencek uses his own path of research and discovery as the backbone of this book. He stumbled upon the Hairstons while working on an assignment about old family homes in America and became increasingly interested in the family. It took him seven years to pour through countless papers in order to understand the genealogy of a family that intermarried in order to preserve its wealth, and that fathered, but did not acknowledge, black descendants. It also took a long time and many visits to get black family members to open up and reveal stories about their ancestors. He created a genealogical chart, although even the chart can be challenging due to repetitive first names. This book is so rich in information that it is hard to choose what I liked best. New details about slavery and Southern culture were important, but understanding the strengths and weaknesses of slaves was even more important. I've seen instances of exceptional forgiveness among black Christians and thought their faith was what guided them, but this book reveals a deeper truth - the Hairstons suffered for centuries, faced hard facts, and chose to address hatred with love and forgiveness. This was not superficial forgiveness, it was forgiveness born of deep pain. This deeper truth permeates their relationships with their white Hairston family as well as with the world at large. They speak the truth with the belief that relationships will hold fast. They respect the actions of their ancestors as they learned to adopt the roles demanded by slavery. For example, one contemporary black Hairston came to understand his grandparents who continued to serve white Hairstons long after emancipation because they had been born and bred to believe that their survival depended on mutual loyalty. This is not always an easy book to read, but I highly recommend it. If you feel like you are getting bogged down, please do not stop - you will be rewarded by reading it to the end.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Carrie Ward

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. My high school friend, reached out when he saw the books I was reading and my desire to learn more. This book is about HIS family’s history. But it’s indeed all of our our history. It’s complex, difficult, and makes me realize how brave are the ones who face their past head on, whether on the side of the oppressed, the oppressor, or BOTH. I learned so much history, but I’m moved by the individual stories of many family members. Two stand out. Joseph Hairston, a brave veteran of WW2 who endured ra My high school friend, reached out when he saw the books I was reading and my desire to learn more. This book is about HIS family’s history. But it’s indeed all of our our history. It’s complex, difficult, and makes me realize how brave are the ones who face their past head on, whether on the side of the oppressed, the oppressor, or BOTH. I learned so much history, but I’m moved by the individual stories of many family members. Two stand out. Joseph Hairston, a brave veteran of WW2 who endured rampant racism while fighting for his country “in an army that clung to its culture of segregation... despite President Harry Truman’s 1948 executive order officially forbidding discrimination in the military.” He bravely replaced what could have become embittered, deadly hatred with life-saving love. And Ever Lee Hairston, born blind in 1944 on a plantation where she later worked as a sharecropper and a maid. It was where her ancestors once labored as slaves. She snuck away from the fields to receive an education, remained cordial with the white Hairstons (once slave owners), and had the opportunity to name and confront the past at a Hairston reunion. “Ever Lee has thought a great deal about her family’s past, about the mentality of slavery and the ‘slavery-like’ time she grew up in. She had also pondered the bond between the white and black Hairstons of Cooleemee. She spoke of her past as an outpouring of nostalgia and pain, resentment and love- powerful strands of emotion that were contradictory but rose up together, so tightly woven that they could not be pulled apart. With her anguish over her history came a determination to embrace it.” “I truly believe that you don’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been.“ -Ever Lee Hairston I think she speaks for all of us.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Leslie

    I found out about this book because another member of a Facebook genealogy group mentioned it. One of my favorite subjects is local and family history, so I grabbed a copy when I saw one for sale. I was not disappointed; I think this is the best book I've read so far this year. The author covers the story of the Hairston family, black and white, through the years from slavery to the 1990s. I found his viewpoint to be compassionate and sometimes sentimental, but he did a good job of laying out th I found out about this book because another member of a Facebook genealogy group mentioned it. One of my favorite subjects is local and family history, so I grabbed a copy when I saw one for sale. I was not disappointed; I think this is the best book I've read so far this year. The author covers the story of the Hairston family, black and white, through the years from slavery to the 1990s. I found his viewpoint to be compassionate and sometimes sentimental, but he did a good job of laying out the facts of the complicated relationships between African Americans and whites in the South. I was pleased to learn much more about the Hairston family and the many places they lived and worked. This book is going on my "keep" shelf and I recommend it for anyone interested in genealogy and local history.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    I am reading The Hairstons for the second time. The first time must pre-date Goodreads because it is not recorded. It is worth reading a second time. A few personal observations. We moved to Raleigh, NC in 1976. Our children attended public schools just a short time after the city schools were combined with the county schools to promote integration. We sent our kids to inner city schools that were magnet schools and they were wonderful. They were definitely integrated. I don't think I realized co I am reading The Hairstons for the second time. The first time must pre-date Goodreads because it is not recorded. It is worth reading a second time. A few personal observations. We moved to Raleigh, NC in 1976. Our children attended public schools just a short time after the city schools were combined with the county schools to promote integration. We sent our kids to inner city schools that were magnet schools and they were wonderful. They were definitely integrated. I don't think I realized completely how big a change that was. The Hairstons talks about a small NC town's schools being integrated in 1968. I am also wishing I could ask my dad now about his time as a soldier during WWII and how much he experienced the segregation of races as recorded in The Hairstons.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Lee

    The Hairston family. Interesting history of the black & white family with the same name joined together forever as descendants of the plantation owners and slaves. After the Civil War, it’s an interesting read to see why certain families failed and why they prospered. The two long chapters on The wars were my least favorite but they were important to telling the Hairston story.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kat Walter

    The largest American family, the white Harstons and the black Hairstons, traced back through the tobacco plantations and across the United States. Lessons of love, tolerance, forgiveness and acceptance.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kara

    Phenomenal and fascinating book.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Candice

    You have to love history to get through this one! I really enjoyed it!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Cara Varnell

    I could not put this book down! It reads like a novel but explores the history of slavery, Jim Crow, and the civil rights movements through a family that lived on a plantation.

  22. 5 out of 5

    John Hopkins

    An important book, especially for anyone from the American South.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Krystie Herndon

    More of that "hidden history" that we all need to know about--and most likely have in many of our own families, if anyone has the time and energy to uncover it! More of that "hidden history" that we all need to know about--and most likely have in many of our own families, if anyone has the time and energy to uncover it!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    I added this book to my reading list because I discovered I am a Hairston descendant through the Ancestry.com DNA. An African American relative suggested I read it and I am so glad that I did. Even if you aren't a Hairston, if you are interested in American history and the dynamics surrounding the South and the question of slavery you will enjoy this book. It's a well written, well researched history of an American family that begins before the American Revolution. The intricacies involved in Pl I added this book to my reading list because I discovered I am a Hairston descendant through the Ancestry.com DNA. An African American relative suggested I read it and I am so glad that I did. Even if you aren't a Hairston, if you are interested in American history and the dynamics surrounding the South and the question of slavery you will enjoy this book. It's a well written, well researched history of an American family that begins before the American Revolution. The intricacies involved in Plantation and slave ownership and the aftermath of the "War." The author uses both first and second hand sources to document the lineage of Peter "The Immigrant" Hairston. I enjoyed it both as a Hairston and as a historian.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Joann Eaton

    This book is a family history of the Hairston clan, both the black and white branch, tracing them from the white clan's establishment as one of the richest slave holder family's in the South through to present times. It addressed the struggles and triumphs of the family and how the two groups deal with their intertwined relationships. I highly recommend this book, not for the writing which is slightly above average, but for the illumination of the black and white families and how they fared from This book is a family history of the Hairston clan, both the black and white branch, tracing them from the white clan's establishment as one of the richest slave holder family's in the South through to present times. It addressed the struggles and triumphs of the family and how the two groups deal with their intertwined relationships. I highly recommend this book, not for the writing which is slightly above average, but for the illumination of the black and white families and how they fared from slave times to today. Excellent illumination of the complications that stem from the roots of a slave economy.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Noreen Mccann

    What a thoroughly researched book into the Hairston familiy- black, white and everything in between. Wiencek takes us with him on his journey off the beaten track through Virginia and North Carolina to talk to family, visit cemeteries, plantaions, ruins and to conduct research. He never shies from discussing race or the effects of slavery with us or the Hairstons. I learned a lot from this story. My eyes were especially opened to the plight of the African American soldiers during WWII. Our count What a thoroughly researched book into the Hairston familiy- black, white and everything in between. Wiencek takes us with him on his journey off the beaten track through Virginia and North Carolina to talk to family, visit cemeteries, plantaions, ruins and to conduct research. He never shies from discussing race or the effects of slavery with us or the Hairstons. I learned a lot from this story. My eyes were especially opened to the plight of the African American soldiers during WWII. Our country has come so far...and we still have a way to go.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Christine Hoover

    I read this book because I saw Jonathan Yardley, upon retirement, put this on his top 30 list of best reads of his career as a book critic. Interesting nonfiction read about a family tree involving both whites and blacks from slavery days into the present. Some chapters were really compelling and made me want to read more. Others had me questioning whether I even wanted to finish the book. Overall, I'm glad I read it. I read this book because I saw Jonathan Yardley, upon retirement, put this on his top 30 list of best reads of his career as a book critic. Interesting nonfiction read about a family tree involving both whites and blacks from slavery days into the present. Some chapters were really compelling and made me want to read more. Others had me questioning whether I even wanted to finish the book. Overall, I'm glad I read it.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Pat Carson

    Terrific read and I'd recommend this to anyone. Get another look at the past and current results of slavery through the eyes of one family that faces both sides of the issue. The stories of black Hairstons and how they were treated in the segregated military, even after 1948, are worth the read alone. Terrific read and I'd recommend this to anyone. Get another look at the past and current results of slavery through the eyes of one family that faces both sides of the issue. The stories of black Hairstons and how they were treated in the segregated military, even after 1948, are worth the read alone.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Rosie

    A good friend loaned me a book to read based on his family, the Hairstons. I was captivated by the history of his family who owned several plantations during the Civil War and owned slaves. An excellent read--I learned so much that I didn't already know about the Civil War, slavery, and his descendants. A good friend loaned me a book to read based on his family, the Hairstons. I was captivated by the history of his family who owned several plantations during the Civil War and owned slaves. An excellent read--I learned so much that I didn't already know about the Civil War, slavery, and his descendants.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Pat (AZ Realtor) 480-840-7166

    Just when you thought you knew everthing about slavery comes this book about the Hairstons. A white family that owned slaves. This is their story and the black Hairston story too. I highly recommend this book. Not only for the history that it reveals, but for how it turns out.

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