Glory Over Everything by Kathleen Grissom
Three years ago I read and reviewed The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom. I now remember almost nothing about it – except that it was the story of a young Irish girl who arrived in Virginia as an indentured servant in the early 1800s.
Kathleen Grissom has now written a sequel, Glory Over Everything. It matters not a bit if you have read the earlier novel, the important back story events are recalled when necessary. The story begins in 1830 in Philadelphia – a state where Negroes live free. This, however, does not mean that they are safe; they are often stolen by slave traders, especially those who may have been slaves in the south and have escaped to the north.
At the centre of the story is a young man known as James Burton. We will discover that he was a character in the earlier novel, with a different name in the past. As the child of a light coloured slave woman and a white man, James has always “passed” for white, and even his adoptive parents do not know of his heritage. James lives a very comfortable life but lives in fear of being exposed.
When James escaped from the plantation where he was born, another former slave living in the swamps along the way assisted him on his journey. This man cared for James until he could move on. James felt he owed this man his life, a debt he could never repay. Until he is one day surprised to find the man at his door with a young boy. The boy, Pan, is brought to James in the hope that he can be employed in his household and live in a free state.
The story becomes one of a desperate journey into the southern states where there is no safety for a black man – free or not. James, and the reader, consider the brutality of slavery, the helplessness of the enslaved, and the cruelty of the slave traders. Even in the north there is still a strict social order where the races do not mix.
This novel is set in a time when change begins – there are some white people who are willing to treat the Negroes as they themselves expect to be treated. James himself comes to understand that even the most uneducated and unfortunate slaves have the same right to a good life as he does. James comes to a new understanding of what many of the women, including his own mother, had to endure as slaves to vicious white masters and plantation managers.
Glory Over Everything is a fascinating portrait of American life in the mid-1800s and a thoroughly good read.