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Weekend Reads: “Jubilee”

JubileeJubilee by Margaret Walker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Based on the author’s ancestors, “Jubilee” is the story of enslaved Black people during both the US Civil War and Reconstruction in Georgia. Vyry (Elvira) is the protagonist; through her eyes, we see the challenges of not only hard labor and enslavement itself, but of developing and carrying on relationships. Vyry has two children by a free man of color, Randall, who wants to marry her … but without her master’s permission, she cannot do so. Permission is never granted, because then not only would Vyry be free, but so would her children (the law at that time gave children the freedom status of their mother, not their father). He refuses to let go of his valuable property.

Randall eventually goes to fight in the war, and Vyry receives a report that, when last seen, Randall was so sick that he was unlikely to have survived the week. When she has the opportunity, after emancipation, to marry a kind man named Innis Brown, she does so … and the two of them leave to start their own farm.

Vyry, Innis, and their children encounter everything from simple prejudice to being burned out by the KKK. As Vyry puts it, they’ve been “from pillar to post.” When they finally find a community where they are able to safely settle, there’s yet another surprise coming their way.

This was a brilliant, and at times sorrow-inducing, book. If you want to see the other side of “Gone With the Wind” (which was written by a Confederate sympathizer), this book will provide it — alongside an important wake-up call. Highly recommended.

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