Land of the Free… Negroes

Publishing Autumn 2020


Daryl Cumber Dance, legendary teacher, celebrated genealogist, applauded literary scholar, and famed folklorist (often dubbed “The Dean of American Folklore”), has achieved renown for her classic studies and collections such as Shuckin’ and Jivin’: Folklore from Contemporary Black Americans; Shuckin’ and Jivin’: Folklore from Contemporary Black Americans (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1978). Folklore from Contemporary Jamaicans; Long Gone: The Mecklenburg Six and the Theme of Escape in Black Folklore; Fifty Caribbean Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical and Critical Sourcebook; New World Adams: Conversations with Contemporary West Indian Writers; Honey, Hush! An Anthology of African American Women’s Humor; The Lineage of Abraham: The Biography of a Free Black Family in Charles City, VA; From My People: 400 Years of African American Folklore; and In Search of Annie Drew, the Mother, and Muse of Jamaica Kincaid.

Those who have followed her remarkable scholarly career during the last fifty years may be shocked to discover that she has suddenly turned her attention to an entirely new genre at the age of eighty-two.

She has produced her first work of fiction: a historical novel, Land of the Free … Negroes.

Clearly, the footprints of the applauded historian, folklorist, humorist, literary critic, and scholar are everywhere evident in this brave new venture, but many may be surprised at the poetic imagination, the creative genius, the spiritual vision, the romantic interludes, the tragic drama, the comedic tableau, and the enthralling suspense that this octogenarian unleashes in her spellbinding history of her own family of free Blacks in Charles City County, Virginia, as they struggle for survival, happiness, and respect in the Antebellum South.

Beginning with an African woman and a Native American man whose son has a daughter by an indentured servant from England, Dance treats six generations of her family, based largely upon and generally bearing the names of her actual ancestors as they deal with capture, kidnappings, rescues, purchases, indentureship, legal conflicts, compromises, seductions, exploitations, wars, mobs, jealousies, robberies, uprisings, schemes, vengefulness, love, courtships, marriages, births, deaths, murders, friendships, parties, celebrations, adventures, travels, businesses, investments, craftsmanship, labor, and education. This page-turner will have you alternately angry, shocked, excited, amazed, amused, moved, and incredulous–but ultimately inspired. Prepare to be enlightened and emotionally touched by Dance’s memorable characters’ sense of self, their love of family, their religious dedication, their delight in their culture, their unexpected courage, their unfailing ingenuity, their steadfast determination, their staunch commitment to ideals, and their building of homes, businesses, a church, and a community.

As William and Mary Professor Hermine Pinson notes, “This is a must-read for students of early American history interested in the seldom-told story of ’how we got over.’” The work is, in the words of Carleton College Professor Emerita Mary Moore Easter, “a feat to be admired and a feast for the reader.” For University of the West Indies Emerita Professor Velma Pollard, “It is a tale told with passion, laying bare the suffering sometimes overlooked in a history in which nobody is spared.” It is for Dance a tribute to her ancestors and a gift for their progeny and our nation.

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