Freedom Over Me
Winner of many literary awards, Ashley Bryan remains an
unassuming, humble artist. As close to the personification of
agelessness as it is possible to be, he takes the same unrestrained
joy in creating as your average kindergartener. Anyone who greets him
is met with enthusiasm and interest. He is one of Maine's finest
treasures. Seeing a new book of his on the Orono Public Library
shelves is cause for celebration...or at least a happy dance. :)
Bryan's latest masterpiece, Freedom Over Me, had a most unusual
"Many years ago I acquired a collection of slave related
documents. They date from the 1820s to the 1860s.
I was deeply moved by those documents and have long wished to
work from them. Finally, I chose the Fairchilds Appraisement of the
Estate document from July 5, 1828 to tell this story. Eleven slaves
are listed for sale with the cows, hogs, cotton; only the names and
prices of slaves are noted (no age is indicated)."
Following the death of her husband, Mrs. Mary Fairchilds decided
to sell the estate and return to her people in England. You can see a
rendition of the property for sale listings (water stained, ink
slightly faded) at the beginning and end of the book. The slaves are
listed along with items such as 192 head of stock cattle and one bay
mare because they were considered belongings rather than human beings.
Bryan sought to show us they were indeed sentient human beings
with hopes, fears, loves, and dreams we can relate to. He gave them
ages and created their portraits.
"...I studied each one, listening for their voices. I wrote
what I heard in free verse to give emphasis to their words. These
words tell of their backgrounds and of their work on the estate.
Then, to bring those people closer, I wrote their inner thoughts as
they went about their work, then created the art that illustrates
these individuals' desires to realize their dreams."
There's Peggy who makes fancy meals for the whites in the big
house and plain food for the slaves. Her father was killed in
Africa. In a frightening new land her mother was sold away from her.
She takes the most pride in using local plants to heal members of her
slave family, a calling that helps her feel close to her stolen mother.
Jane is the plantation seamstress. Stephen is the carpenter who
is sometimes hired out to other estates. Teenage John is their
adopted son. They are secretly learning to read and write. Their
dreams are of living together, Jane and Stephen legally married, and
adding to their family babies who could not be sold away.
Freedom Over Me is a great book to read during Black History
Month. The only problem is the inhumanity it documents is still going
on today. Worldwide there is still a lot of slavery. Too many
whites, including people in authority and police officers, persist in
seeing blacks as thugs, dangers to the rest of us. Families are being
cruelly split apart by border police, homeland security, and
On a personal note, I discovered quite a few treasures at the Black
Bear Exchange recently. I got my friend Russell a colorful abstract
tie. I found myself a UMaine baseball cap, a Hollister flowered
sweater, a scarf covered with cat pictures, and a black and white
winter hat that says, PARENTAL ADVISORY EXPLICIT CONTENT. A lot of
conservatives would not want their kids seeing my opinion pieces. The
explicit content comes direct from my beautiful brain.
my beautiful brain.
A great big shout out goes out to the fine Black Bear Exchange workers
and their boss, Lisa Morin.
Sent from my iPod