ALL THAT SHE CARRIED is a story about women, mothers and daughters, who chose the profundity of love over dehumanizing conditions. How much can one bag hold? Ashley’s Sack a rough cotton bag, given by an enslaved woman named Rose to her daughter, Ashley, before their forced separation, reveals one object’s capacity to hold onto history and to keep love for generations. Ashley’s granddaughter, Ruth, inherited the sack and embroidered it with just a handful of words that evoke her family’s sweeping story of loss and of love. It reads:
My great grandmother Rose
mother of Ashley gave her this sack when
she was sold at age 9 in South Carolina
it held a tattered dress 3 handfuls of
pecans a braid of Roses hair. Told her
It be filled with my Love always
she never saw her again
Ashley is my grandmother
Building on Ruth’s words, Miles carefully unearths these women’s faint presence in archival records and draws on objects and art, to follow the paths of their lives—and the lives of so many women like them—in a singular and revelatory history of the experience of slavery, and the uncertain freedom afterward, in the United States.
But what makes Miles’s book revolutionary is that she shows us how these threadbare pieces of the historic record are vital TODAY as we stare down a difficult future. ALL THAT SHE CARRIED is not simply a history of dark times, as necessary as they as they are to confront, but about rediscovering the tools that Black women invented—tools to preserve and pass down love, tools to rescue stories, tools to hold onto the hope for a future against steep odds—as we look to create our own future, a future that includes facing things such as police brutality and climate change.