National Book Awards Acceptance Speeches

Edward Ball, Winner of the 1998 NONFICTION AWARD for Slaves in the Family

Thank you very much. Thank you. Thanks to the National Book Foundation. When I was a boy, my father used to tell me stories about our ancestors, the plantation owners. "Did I ever tell you about Elias "Red Cap" Ball?" he would say. "He was a mean fellow. He fought in some Indian wars, and he owned about 100 people. Did I ever tell you about Isaac "The Confederate" Ball?" Isaac the Confederate was my father's grandfather. He enlisted in the South Carolina Light Artillery at age 18, fought throughout the Civil War, and ended up in Central North Carolina in the last stand against Sherman.

But for all his stories, my dad never said much about the slaves that our family owned. I learned later that our family had controlled 25 rice plantations along the Cooper River, north of the city of Charleston, that we'd enslaved close to 4,000 Africans and African-Americans over a period of 170 years, and I later calculated that the descendants of those black families numbered between 75,000 and 100,000 living Americans today. In fact, my dad had a joke. There are five things we don't talk about in the Ball family, religion, sex, death, money, and the Negroes. It was some years before I gathered the courage to break the taboo in my family around the subject of slavery. I was in my 30s, and when I did, Jonathan Galassi and Farrar, Straus and Giroux was there, and he shepherded this book to its completion.

Roger Straus was there. He muscled this book to its completion. I'm grateful to Chris Dahl, my agent, to my fiance, Liz Guckenberger, for standing by me, and to all the staff at Farrar, Straus. Part of the reason for doing this book was to try to get some reconciliation between white folks and black folks around the subject of slavery, and on that score, I've decided to take the next step, which is actually to pay restitution, and I have decided that I will set aside a quarter of my income from sales of the copies of this book to create a foundation that will be run in collaboration between black folks and white, to create restitution programs that we design together, in some attempt to answer for the legacy of slavery.

A handful of members of my own family, the Balls, are going to participate with me in the creation of this foundation, and maybe others will be brought along, as well. Well, this is a surprise and a great honor. Thank you, Neil Baldwin, and thanks to the National Book Foundation, and thank you all for taking an interest in this project and for going with me on that long journey. Thank you.