Beginning with her great-great grandfather Moses Calhoun, a house slave who used the rare advantage of his education to become a successful businessman in post-war Atlanta, Buckley follows her family’s two branches: one that stayed in the South, and the other that settled in Brooklyn.
Her story begins in 1865 with the emancipation of Moses Calhoun, a man in his mid-30s who was previously owned by Dr. Andrew Bonaparte Calhoun. Dr. Calhoun was a relative of John C. Calhoun, the seventh vice president of the United States and a passionate defender of slavery. Compared to many other slaves, Moses was fortunate. Of the roughly 462,000 slaves in Georgia at the start of the Civil War, only around 5,000 were literate. Moses was among the literate few, probably due to his owner’s social status, and he secretly taught his mother and sister to read and write.
As was the custom, Moses took his master’s surname when he was liberated. Moses Calhoun did well, married a freewoman and did not suffer the harsh realities of postwar men searching desperately to find sold-away loved ones. Brinkley gives us an overview of the state of education for black children during the Reconstruction, and credits the missionary schools for starting the Calhouns on a multigenerational pattern of high achievement.