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Columbia Professor’s Book Chronicles Plantation Life, Both Black and White


xxx Decatur, GA.—Erskine Clarke, professor of American religious history at Columbia Theological Seminary, is the author of Dwelling Place: A Plantation Epic, recently released by Yale University Press. The book is not only a biography of Charles Colcock Jones—the subject of Robert M. Myers’s Children of Pride: The True Story of Georgia and the Civil War—but it also completes the story of that earlier book by giving a narrative history of four generations of the plantation’s inhabitants, both black and white. Yale University Press has submitted Dwelling Place for a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Critics Circle Award. Dr. Clarke began work on this book a decade ago, planning to focus on Jones, who was closely identified with the early history of Columbia Theological Seminary. The vast collection of letters in Children of Pride, a National Book Award winner in 1973, covered only the last part of Jones’s life, but, according to Dr. Clarke, “did not include the critical earlier years of his work among the Gullah people of the Georgia coast. The family papers included thousands of letters, extensive plantation records, journals, sermons preached to slaves, and documents describing slave life.” As his research progressed, Dr. Clarke discovered African Americans “emerging into plain view—people with names, histories, distinctive traits, and varied ways of resisting the oppression of slavery.” Because of his interest in the stories of these slaves, he decided to write about them also and to attempt an “upstairs-downstairs” approach. In describing this approach to the material, he says, “One story would be told from the perspective of whites, who saw the low country from the piazzas of plantation homes, the other from the perspective of blacks, who saw it from around the communal fires of slave settlements.” John Boles, the William P. Hobby Professor of History at Rice University and editor of Journal of Southern History, says, “In this masterful composite biography, Erskine Clarke—an uncommonly gifted historian—portrays a broad swath of Southern history. It is a work of both consummate scholarship and great literary flair.” Dan T. Carter, the first Educational Foundation Professor of History at University of South Carolina, adds, “This is a work of grand sweep and great power. Erskine Clarke tells the stories of four generations of wealthy white planters and their slaves and the extraordinarily complex ways in which these two communities interacted.” Dwelling Place is available through the seminary bookstore, or 404-687-4550. Columbia Theological Seminary, located in Decatur, Georgia, was established in 1828 and is one of 10 theological institutions of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

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