Joint Reckoning

Updated February 28, 2017 | Infoplease Staff
Black History Month

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Can filling in those missing pieces of our national history help to set the stage for some reconciliation between groups of Americans between whom some peace still needs to be made? If Slaves in the Family is any indication, it is in those gaps that those groups may, for better or worse, find their most intimate connections.

Ball seems determined to find out. He is collaborating with members of his family and descendants of Ball slaves to set up a foundation to design restitution projects to benefit people affected by the Balls' plantation past. During his acceptance speech at the National Book Awards, Ball announced that this "as yet unnamed entity" would be initially funded by one-quarter of the book's proceeds.

Whatever form the foundation ultimately takes, its efforts are not likely to involve the writing of checks to individual persons, or any kind of unilateral largesse. The money and land accumulated by the Balls in their slave-holding days is long gone, having fallen prey to Reconstruction and the failure of the South Carolina rice industry (the last plantation was sold out of the family in 1920).

Restitution will instead take the form of a "joint reckoning" whose effects, Ball hopes, will extend —if only by example—beyond the sphere of the Balls and Ball slaves. "I hope that whatever we do," he says, "causes others who have been fortunate in this society to measure the nature of their fortune against the racial history of this country... perhaps they can draw their own conclusions."