Tiya Miles has been named winner of the 2022 Cundill History Prize for All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake.
J.R. McNeill, Chair of the Jury said: “All That She Carried is the winner, in a field of superb books, because of its clear and moving prose, its imaginative research, and the way the author illuminates the human condition through a family story. The world of enslaved women in the antebellum South is, by the standards of U.S. history, extremely poorly documented, but Miles has risen to that challenge in ways that show the best of the historian’s craft. For me, the vividness and immediacy of the writing is the strongest suit of this powerful book.”
Administered by McGill University in Montreal and awarded by a distinguished jury, the Cundill History Prize honors the abiding passion for history of its founder, F. Peter Cundill, by encouraging informed public debate through the wider dissemination of history writing to new audiences around the world.
All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake by Tiya Miles
In a display case in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture sits a rough cotton bag, called Ashley’s Sack, embroidered with just a handful of words that evoke a sweeping family story of loss and of love, passed down through generations.
In 1850s South Carolina, an enslaved woman named Rose gave this sack filled with a few precious items to her daughter, Ashley, as a token of love and to try to ensure Ashley’s survival as well. Soon after, the nine-year-old girl was separated from her mother and sold. Decades later, Ashley’s granddaughter Ruth embroidered this family history on the bag in spare yet haunting language—including Rose’s wish that “It be filled with my Love always.” Now, in this illuminating, deeply moving new book inspired by Rose’s gift to Ashley, historian Tiya Miles carefully unearths these women’s faint presence in archival records and draws on objects and art, to follow the paths of their lives—and the lives of so many women like them—in a singular and revelatory history of the experience of slavery, and the uncertain freedom afterward, in the United States.