Freeman takes place in the first few months following the Confederate surrender and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Upon learning of Lee’s surrender, Sam – a runaway slave who once worked for the Union Army – decides to leave his safe haven in Philadelphia and set out on foot to return to the war-torn South. What compels him on this almost-suicidal course is the desire to find his wife – the mother of his only child – whom he and their son left behind 15 years earlier on the Mississippi farm to which they all “belonged.”
At the same time, Sam’s wife, Tilda, is being forced to walk at gunpoint with her owner and two of his other slaves from the charred remains of his Mississippi farm into Arkansas, in search of an undefined place that would still respect his entitlements as slaveowner and Confederate officer.
The book’s third main character, Prudence, is a fearless, headstrong white woman of means who leaves her Boston home for Buford, Mississippi, to start a school for the former bondsmen, and thus honor her father’s dying wish.
At bottom, Freeman is a love story – sweeping, generous, brutal, compassionate, patient – about the feelings people were determined to honor, despite the enormous constraints of the times. At the same time, this book addresses several themes that are still hotly debated today, some 145 years after the official end of the Civil War. Freeman illuminates the times and places it describes from a fresh perspective, capturing the pathos and possibility of the era particularly as it reflects the ordeal of the black slaves grappling with the promise – and the terror – of their new status as free men and women.
NOMINATING LIBRARY COMMENTS
Freeman is a love story that follows the journey of Sam Freeman, a runaway slave, in search of his wife, following the surrender of the Confederacy and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. While there are shocking twists and turns and heartbreaking brutalities, the reader is always hopeful that he will find his Tilda, the mother of his only child who was brutally murdered. Pitts is a masterful storyteller, his prose paints a picture that haunts and captures.
Detroit Public Library