Verdict: Authors Edna Gail Bush and Natonne Elaine Kemp dazzle with compassion in illuminating the revered history of their enslaved ancestors through fascinating interviews and inquisitive research.
On what Alane Roundtree called a “trip down memory lane” nearly a decade ago with then-91-year-old Deacon Daniel Webster Moody, an elder of the Runs Baptist Church, the voices of past slaves echoed from his croons of church hymns. Moody’s great-grandfather, James Riley, was an eyewitness to the Ellenton Riot in Aiken County, South Carolina and, though going blind, made it a priority to show his great-grandson the decrepit cabin where innocent civilians were murdered by Confederates and devious assailants who denied men of color their voting rights in the post-Civil War era in 1876.
In her quest to know her husband’s grandfather Reverend George Bryant, a longtime preacher with the church founded after the emancipation, Roundtree met Edna Gail Bush and Natonne Elaine Kemp who were deeply engrossed in their own inquisitive pursuits to find information on their enslaved ancestors. After nearly 20 years of genealogical research, connecting with other ancestral enthusiasts on online and poking through books, census records and local newspaper clippings, writers Bush and Kemp documented their findings in a book they call THERE IS SOMETHING ABOUT EDGEFIELD to resurrect the stories of those enslaved during the African Holocaust and liberate them with 250 pages with awe-inspiring research. And no better time to grind away on these women’s comprehensive accounts of their endeavors to write this history than on Black History Month. To quote Kemp: “The legacy of slavery is still felt today.”
It was Bush’s perished grandparents that propelled her to know them through thorough research; relying on her parents’ hazy memories left her frustratingly unsatisfied. Kemp’s father’s death at the tender age of 4 is what piqued her curiosity in filling a void to know her ancestors, some of whom she discovered were members of the World War I draft and sharecropping farmers with large families. Despite the typical hurdles in conducting such research, things like incomplete death certificates didn’t stop the women from cold-calling relatives to find answers. Their perseverance proved fruitful as they ascertained extraordinary information (for one, Kemp’s great-grandfather could read and write despite the “alarmingly high” illiteracy rate in the state at the time of men ages 65 and over, and Bush’s great-grandfather owned several hundred acres of property amidst a squalid, violent and racially divided territory of Edgefield County. The book is an exemplary guide to anyone looking to undertake the laborious task of excavating buried heritage to forever treasure.
~Lianna Albrizio for IndieReader