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Publisher's Summary

National Book Award Winner

A renowned historian traces the life of a single object handed down through three generations of Black women to craft an extraordinary testament to people who are left out of the archives.

Kirkus Prize Finalist • Longlisted for The Pen/john Kenneth Galbraith Award • One of the Ten Best Books of the Year: The Washington Post, Slate, Vulture, Publishers Weekly • One of the Best Books of The Year: The New York Times, NPR, Time, The Boston Globe, The Atlantic, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Smithsonian Magazine, Book Riot, Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Booklist

“Deeply layered and insightful ... [a] bold reflection on American history, African American resilience, and the human capacity for love and perseverance in the face of soul-crushing madness.” (The Washington Post)

“A history told with brilliance and tenderness and fearlessness.” (Jill Lepore, author of These Truths: A History of the United States)

In 1850s South Carolina, an enslaved woman named Rose faced a crisis, the imminent sale of her daughter Ashley. Thinking quickly, she packed a cotton bag with a few precious items as a token of love and to try to ensure Ashley’s survival. Soon after, the nine-year-old girl was separated from her mother and sold.

Decades later, Ashley’s granddaughter Ruth embroidered this family history on the bag in spare yet haunting language - including Rose’s wish that “it be filled with my Love always”. Ruth’s sewn words, the reason we remember Ashley’s sack today, evoke a sweeping family story of loss and of love passed down through generations. Now, in this illuminating, deeply moving book inspired by Rose’s gift to Ashley, historian Tiya Miles carefully unearths these women’s faint presence in archival records to follow the paths of their lives - and the lives of so many women like them - to write a singular and revelatory history of the experience of slavery, and the uncertain freedom afterward, in the United States.

The search to uncover this history is part of the story itself. For where the historical record falls short of capturing Rose’s, Ashley’s, and Ruth’s full lives, Miles turns to objects and to art as equally important sources, assembling a chorus of women’s and families’ stories and critiquing the scant archives that for decades have overlooked so many. The contents of Ashley’s sack- a tattered dress, handfuls of pecans, a braid of hair, “my Love always” - are eloquent evidence of the lives these women lived. As she follows Ashley’s journey, Miles metaphorically unpacks the bag, deepening its emotional resonance and exploring the meanings and significance of everything it contained.

All That She Carried is a poignant story of resilience and of love passed down through generations of women against steep odds. It honors the creativity and fierce resourcefulness of people who preserved family ties even when official systems refused to do so, and it serves as a visionary illustration of how to reconstruct and recount their stories today.

©2021 Tiya Miles (P)2021 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“Deeply and lovingly researched...a testament to the power of story, witness, and unyielding love.” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution

All That She Carried is a master class in the use of context in historical writing. Stymied by a lack of records, Miles thinks around the sack from every available angle.” (Rebecca Onion, Slate)

“A brilliant exercise in historical excavation and recovery.... With creativity, determination, and great insight, Miles illuminates the lives of women who suffered much, but never forgot the importance of love and family.” (Annette Gordon-Reed, author of The Hemingses of Monticello)

What listeners say about All That She Carried

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An Astonishing Feat of Scholarship, Imagination and Empathy

As a white woman primarily educated in Texas, I was instilled with the sanitized, I might say whitewashed, history of slavery in America. For the past 20 or so years, I’ve sought to educate myself of its and our true history. This book (I plan to purchase the print version) made an indelible impression on my mind and my soul. I’m deeply indebted to the author and to the performer. Thank you both.

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Illuminating and Heartfelt

I did not know what to expect from the title but I was swept up in the intimacy of this story. It was illuminating in a new way of knowing and carrying our story of enslavement. We are survivors and the ways we approached surviving are many and varied. I take with me a commitment to create survival sacks in our ongoing struggle for a just and equal world.

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Read This Book!

It has opened me up like a flower to the love handed down from my female ancestors, my great grandmother, grandmother and mother to me. These are not just dresser scarfs and linens. These are generations of love.

There is so much more to be learned from this book about how women have communicated through time to other women via needlework. I am so grateful to the author.
What a gift this is to me.

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beautiful

An extraordinary example of providing context where there seems to be none. I'll be recommending this to everyone. Thanks Prof. Miles!

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Should be required reading

Have the hankies handy. I'm white, from a small rural town in upstate NY. I spent much of my reading furious and in tears. I know I can never truly understand the trauma enslavement inflicted on African-Americans, but I think this book brought me closer. This book should be required reading for high school social studies

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Well researched

This really read more like a thesis or research book. It was good and you can tell a lot of searching through history went into it. Ashley’s sack serves as a tangible object that travels the reader through generations of free and enslaved Black women. It wasn’t until I looked up what the sack looked like in real life that the fullness of the book hit me, it’s an incredible artifact.

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loved

What I appreciate so much about this book are the various ways in which the history of this object explores rich aspects of material culture. Racial, political, feminist, familial, spiritual, cultural & ecological. The story of Ashley's sack is an example of the tenuous & fragile nature of marginalized (Black womens in this case) herstories! It's an inspiration to learn so much from one object & gives me hope for more similar histories to be recovered.

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Lives difficult to sew up in a few words

The deeper meaning as you look inside and on Ashley's sack or tote is so touching. How fortunate it survived despite all the abuses women carried from generations to present time. It is always difficult to hear how slaves were treated, or that there was so much greed. This is a story that needs to be heard. The depth of this book, left me marvel at how she could use visual and tactile images to tell this amazing story. 👏🏽👏🏽👏🏽 in the depths of despair love can be there to help get you through. There needs to be love, and we need to hear and repeat difficult history to add humility to our lives.

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A must read/listen

I am a quilter (and a white woman), and learned a lot by reading this book. I heard Tiya speak in a recent webcast from the Museum of Fine Arts Boston about the Harriet Powers quilts with Bisa Butler. I wasn’t familiar with Tiya already, but loved her insights about the quilts. I flew through this book, reading it in less than a week. I’d also previously read Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book Braiding Sweetgrass, which was referenced a couple times, which I also deeply appreciated.

I hope you enjoy & learn from both books too. I’m very grateful to’ve read them.
-Heidi Parkes

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a wonderful book

a well-written, well-researched, well-read book that made me cry at the many tragedies and marvel at the persistence and resilience described.