Author(s): W. Caleb McDaniel
The unforgettable saga of one enslaved woman's fight for justice--and reparations
Born into slavery, Henrietta Wood was taken to Cincinnati and legally freed in 1848. In 1853, a Kentucky deputy sheriff named Zebulon Ward colluded with Wood's employer, abducted her, and sold her back into bondage. She remained enslaved throughout the Civil War, giving birth to a son in Mississippi and never forgetting who had put her in this position.
By 1869, Wood had obtained her freedom for a second time and returned to Cincinnati, where she sued Ward for damages in 1870. Astonishingly, after eight years of litigation, Wood won her case: in 1878, a Federal jury awarded her $2,500. The decision stuck on appeal. More important than the amount, though the largest ever awarded by an American court in restitution for slavery, was the fact that any money was awarded at all.
By the time the case was decided, Ward had become a wealthy businessman and a pioneer of convict leasing in the South. Wood's son later became a prominent Chicago lawyer, and she went on to live until 1912. McDaniel's book is an epic tale of a black woman who survived slavery twice and who achieved more than merely a moral victory over one of her oppressors.
Above all, Sweet Taste of Liberty is a portrait of an extraordinary individual as well as a searing reminder of the lessons of her story, which establish beyond question the connections between slavery and the prison system that rose in its place.
Winner of the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for History
"In this gripping study, Rice University historian McDaniel recounts the painful but triumphant story of one enslaved woman's long fight for justice... McDaniel tells this story engrossingly and accessibly. This is a valuable contribution to Reconstruction history with clear relevance to current debates about reparations for slavery."--Publishers Weekly
"[A] superbly written chronicle . . . . rich with vivid personalities and unexpected turns." --Wall Street Journal
"Through painstaking archival research, Bell and McDaniel have reconstructed their lives with such vivid detail, sensitivity, and riveting storytelling that you would think each of their figures left us whole autobiographies. For the simple act of recovering their stories, both books would be commendable. But what makes them essential reading is the larger questions they demand of us as readers: What exactly was the condition under which un-enslaved black people lived before emancipation--and what is it that they and their descendants are owed?"--The New Republic
"W. Caleb McDaniel tells a breathless tale with an ominously dark feel through many of its pages, because the monsters here were real. Yes, it's a complicated tale that races from north to south, but the righteous audacity that ultimately occurred in Ohio in 1870 makes it worthwhile, fist-pumping, and satisfying. Historians, of course, will want Sweet Taste of Liberty. Feminists shouldn't miss it. Folks with an opinion on reparations should find it. All of you will want to take it home."--Miami Times