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Historical nonfiction book, Under the Vine & Fig Tree: Slavery in Kentucky, Colonization in Liberia
21 Sep 2013
Published To

Sixteen thousand American freeborn blacks and emancipated slaves helped establish the African Republic of Liberia. The controversial movement to colonize Liberia lasted for nearly a century, and a large percentage of the colonists were women, children, and the elderly. 

An average of 20 percent of every boatload of settlers died within the first year of malaria; those who avoided that fate faced innumerable other challenge. They struggled to build new lives as free people while forging an uneasy relationship with the many indigenous tribes. The presence of the so-called Americo-Liberians created a two-tiered society and tensions that erupted more than a century later in devastating civil wars.

Louisville-based author Susan E. Lindsey is writing a historical nonfiction book about fifteen former slaves from Christian County, Kentucky, who immigrated to Liberia in 1836. At the center of the book are fifteen letters and notes sent by the Liberian settlers to their former master in America. Lindsey received a grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women to assist with research exploring the experiences of women as colonists in Liberia, the role of women in the republic’s early history, and the role of black and white women in America as slaves, slaveholders, abolitionists, emancipationists, and colonizationists. The project has already received positive attention from two regional publishers and a New York literary agent. 

Published history often focuses on the accomplishments and experiences of white men—it is far easier to find documentation for them. Women and blacks left a smaller paper trail. Writing a more complete book—a more compelling and accurate book—requires deeper, more time-consuming research.

The KFW grant is helping Lindsey expand and complete her research. Her sources include the letters themselves, census records, wills, vital records, deeds and court orders, books about Liberian colonization, state and county histories, Liberian histories, American Colonization Society archives and publications, records and publications from Eureka College and the Disciples of Christ Historical Society, archives of various other historical societies, interviews, and a range of other secondary and primary sources. 

She hopes her book will tell a very human tale of colonization, while recognizing the powerful role of women in Kentucky and Liberia in emancipation, colonization, and the building of a new republic.


The artist or arts organization telling this story was supported in part by a grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women. KFW is based on the belief that when women and girls advance, so does Kentucky. For more information about the foundation and the social change artmaking being done by the individuals and organizations it supports, visit www.kfw.org." 

Non-Fiction Community Cross-Cultural Culture Empowerment Gender Heritage Indigenous Rural - International Rural-Urban Women Books/Writing Southeast Activist African American Reasearcher Writer colonization liberia slavery
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