Books: Non-Fiction

Many Thousand Gone: African-Americans from Slavery to Freedom

Book — Non-fiction. By Virginia Hamilton. 2002. 160 pages.
An illustrated account of slavery for children based on historical records, personal narratives, and biographies for ages 8 – 12. Includes profiles of Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Frederick Douglass.

Time Periods: 18th Century, 19th Century
Themes: Organizing, Slavery and Resistance

manythousandMany Thousand Gone, Virginia Hamilton’s award-winning companion to The People Could Fly, traces the history of slavery in America in the voices and stories of those who lived it. Leo and Diane Dillon’s brilliant black-and-white illustrations echo the stories — subtlety and power, making this book as stunning to look at as it is to read. [Publisher’s description.]

“From the beginning of slavery in America to the end of the Civil War, hundreds of thousands of slaves escaped to freedom in the Northern U. S. and Canada. Their struggle, as well as the struggle of those who failed and those who were once free and then captured into slavery, comprises the theme of this history. Hamilton offers brief vignettes of almost three dozen figures. Among them are a prince lured to a neighboring kingdom and sold into slavery and a desperate mother whose escape over an icy river inspired a scene in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Well-known figures are included, as are such lesser-known people as Henry Box Brown, who had a sympathetic carpenter nail him into a box and mail him North; or Tice Davids, whose escape in 1831 led to the coining of the term “underground road.” Although the emphasis is on African-American figures, biographies of whites who risked prison to help slaves to freedom are also included. The vignettes are lively, readable, and written with a poetic flair that distinguishes this book from most collective biographies for this age range. All of the stories shed a different light upon Hamilton’s themes and the factual information she presents as an introduction to each theme. Her research is impeccable. The Dillons’ black-and-white illustrations are refreshingly original, conveying the emotion and drama of the experiences described; text and visuals combine to create a powerful and moving whole. Reluctant readers and those with little prior knowledge will find this book unusually approachable with its short chapters, lively writing, and ample white space.” —Lyn Miller-Lachmann, School Library Journal

“There is probably no better way to convey the meaning of the institution of slavery as it existed in the United States to young readers than by using, as a text to share and discuss, Many Thousand Gone.” —New York Times Book Review

About the Author

Virginia Hamilton, storyteller, lecturer, and biographer, was born and raised in Yellow Springs, OH, which is said to be a station on the Underground Railroad. Her grandfather settled in the village after escaping slavery in Virginia. She was educated at Antioch College and Ohio State University and did further study in literature and the novel at the New School for Social Research. Hamilton was the first African American woman to win the Newbery Award, for M.C. Higgins the Great. Since then, she has won three Newbery Honors and three Coretta Scott King Awards. In 1992, Hamilton was awarded the Hans Christian Andersen Medal, which is presented every two years by the International Board on Books for Young People, in recognition of her entire body of work. Hamilton writes first for the pleasure of using words and language to evoke characters and their world, and in historical accounts such as Anthony Burns, the lives of real people. Secondly, Hamilton writes to entertain, to inspire in people the desire to read on and on good books made especially for them.

ISBN: 9780679879367 | Knopf