Slave’s efforts paved the way for freedom for others – Daily Press

A number of books have been published recently regarding slavery and the Civil War. None is more provocative and illuminating than Kristen Green’s latest book, “The Devil’s Half Acre: The Untold Story of How One Woman Liberated the South’s Most Notorious Slave Jail” (Seal Press, 352 pages, $30).

A Richmond resident and former reporter for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, among other well-known newspapers like the Boston Globe, Green took a little-known story about enslaved Mary Lumpkin and created a winner.

Mary Lumpkin’s incredible efforts helped create a path to freedom for many of her black brothers and sisters. Her white owner and “husband” Robert Lumpkin was the owner of a “slave prison”, not only a pen for slaves awaiting the next auction, but also “a purgatory for rebels”.

Called by slaves who endured its terror or by those who heard of it, the “Devil’s Half Acre” consisted of four buildings on a small site at Shockoe Bottom in the east side of Richmond. The upper level was where the Lumpkins lived and the lower level was the prison.

Part of Mary Lumpkin’s incredible story is that she inherited the prison after Robert Lumpkin’s death. She turned this land into a school where black children could thrive. This school’s successor is present-day Virginia Union University in Richmond, one of the nation’s first historically black colleges and universities.

In his prologue, Green wrote that the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the Black Lives Matter movement have raised awareness of police brutality and racially-motivated violence against black Americans, exposing a past that has been rendered invisible, buried by white supremacists.

“I hope the story I have woven about the life of Mary Lumpkin inspires, opens minds and motivates readers to work for racial justice,” she said.

Green skillfully told the story of Mary Lumpkin, including being forced to have children by her master Lumpkin and the role of her two mixed-race daughters who were sent to school up north. Later with their mother, the girls moved to Pennsylvania to live to protect them from being sold into slavery.


Recently, a good friend and fellow journalist Will Molineux, retired editor of the Daily Press, reminded me of a book published over 55 years ago. It was by mutual friend Burke Davis, a resident of Williamsburg at the time who was a special writer for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Davis wrote various projects for Carlisle H. Humelsine, then president of the foundation, which also allowed him to work on major book projects. Among these was a series of important books on the Civil War written around the centennial era of the war.

However, the book Will was talking about was a novel, “The Summer Land”, now only available through and various used book websites.

I agreed with Molineux that another look at volume was warranted.

“It’s been over 55 years since I read Burke’s sentimental novel about the 1916 hardscrabble folks shenanigans at the tobacconist and it seemed overdue for recognition,” Molineux said. “The characters and their antics hadn’t completely faded from memory, but just enough, I thought, to savor again the magic of Davis’ storytelling which, in my 1965 Virginia Gazette review, I called “warm and rich”.

Rereading the volume, Molineux found that all the characters were there with their “family loyalties and race relations; their cheerfulness; their anxiety to bring a commercial crop to market,” he explained. It was all told “with pride and humor through the familiar twang of 15-year-old Fax Starling”.

Molineux’s discovery, however, was that he “couldn’t sympathize with them; I had lost a lot of my empathy for them. … Coming back to ‘Summer Land’ was like visiting an old friend and finding out that we had little in common.

Honestly, it was a treat for me to re-read this novel because of Davis’ outstanding prose and well-crafted characters.


Gloucester County-born and now Williamsburg resident Tammy H. Kersey has created an adorable series of children’s books about a naughty pup named Dickens.

The second and most recent of her rhyming picture books is “Golly-Oodle-Lolly! One Fine Day With A Naughty Puppy” (Tale Wagger Stories, 36 pages, $19.95). crazy words like supercalifragilisticexpialidocious from Mary Poppins In fact, golly-oodle-lolly, as Kersey writes, is a made-up word that’s an exclamation for a sweet ton of surprises.

Mom, dad, grandparents and Aunt Suzie can take a youngster on a wonderful journey of fun words with the Dickensian puppy in the lead.

Kersey created this series when she unexpectedly lost her job and had some free time. A puppy arrived and the stories just evolved.

A William & Mary graduate and marketing professional, Kersey teamed up with Lindsey C. Finch, who grew up in Williamsburg and taught art for a few years before becoming a full-time artist. This combination of talents has created a fun and entertaining children’s book that helps create hours of fun for the whole family.


The Book Warehouse at Williamsburg Premium Outlets had entered into a marketing partnership with the Writers Guild of Virginia to feature a variety of programs over the next several months, according to bookstore manager Ralph Tedeschi.

The first program will take place on July 29 at 6:30 p.m. and will feature poets Reyn Kinzey and Lacroy “Atlas” Nixon. Richmonder Kinzey’s latest collection of poems is called ‘Chasing the Dragon’. Nixon of Williamsburg also recently published a book of poetry and art titled “God and His Humor.”

These poets will read excerpts from their works and in addition, there will be music and refreshments on the program. Tedeschi said there would only be family content.

Going forward, the partnership with the Writers Guild will feature additional book signings, book launches and public readings.

Do you have a comment or suggestion for Kale? Contact him at [email protected]

Colin L. Johnson