44 pages 1 hour read

Tiya Miles

All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley's Sack, a Black Family Keepsake

Nonfiction | Biography | Adult | Published in 2021

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Important Quotes

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“With these words of a granddaughter, mother, sewer, and storyteller imbued a piece of fabric with all the drama and pathos of ancient tapestries depicting the deeds of queens and goddesses. She preserved the memory of her foremothers and also venerated these women, shaping their image for the next generation. Without Ruth, there would be no record. Without her record, there would be no history. Ruth’s act of creation mirrored that of her great-grandmother Rose. Through her embroidery, Ruth ensured that the valiance of discounted women would be recalled and embraced as a treasured inheritance.”

(Introduction, Page 6)

Miles draws a strong metaphorical thread between Ruth’s embroidery of Ashley’s Sack and the historically pervasive tradition of storytelling by women through the depictive elements in women’s textile arts dating back to ancient cultures. Miles emphasizes Ruth’s essential contribution to the sack’s relevance; had she not embroidered her family history on it, perhaps it would have not survived to be represented in the collection of a museum dedicated to African American history in the 21st century. Ruth’s own history is thus rendered as just as integral to the sack’s legacy as that of her grandmother and great-grandmother.

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“As multiple things rolled into one, Ashley’s sack is an extraordinary artifact of the cultural and craft productions of African American women. […] As with any archive, we cannot presume that this sack bears straightforward, unassailable facts. Using the object responsibly as a source for historical inquiry means asking questions of it, and as uncomfortable as it might feel, maintaining a willingness to poke holes into it. Placing this artifact in conversation with other sources and considering its various historical contexts can help us test its reliability in the service of historical understanding as well as the search for ‘symbolic truths’ that transcend hard evidence and speak to the intangible meanings of our collective human lives.”

(Introduction, Pages 16-17)

Miles acknowledges that thorough historical research methods necessitate questioning both the claims of Ashley’s Sack itself and the importance of drawing upon primary source material to inform the study of this artifact. A measure of incredulity was required of Miles due to the obscurity of the sack. Navigating through the significant gaps in representation of African Americans in the historical annals, Miles incorporates the personal histories of several Black women whose experiences illuminate the realities they held in common with women like Rose, Ashley, and Ruth.