The Knight Family Legacy: One Family’s Story
Marilyn R. Hill-Sutton
Outskirts Press (2010)
Reviewed by Deb Shunamon for Reader Views (1/11)
This true story is absolutely fascinating. In 1886 a successful white man from Georgia, U.S.A., died and left his estate to his former slave and their children. The obstacles preventing his verbal wishes from being carried out can be imagined, and to discuss these Marilyn Hill-Sutton pulls together a vast array of documents and information to tell the family history of Confederate Lieutenant Colonel John Knight, Violet Knight, and their descendants.
This book sets a high standard for genealogical and family history research. But by doing so, and by including transcriptions of supporting documents in the text rather than in an appendix, it is often more reference-like in tone than a story. However, there can be no disputing the interesting evidence right there at hand that shows that claims and lawsuits from numerous others suddenly appeared to dwindle the estate; why it took five years, and a Supreme Court ruling, for the final wishes of John Knight to be considered; and that not only the white children but the sons and daughters of unions with slaves were legally considered the man’s children and that some Afro-Americans were willing to fight long and hard for their recognition as such. As well as the story of one family, the Knight’s history also speaks to larger issues such as the definition of family, racism, and how the American legal system worked, among others.
More than anything this book shows how fascinating Afro-American genealogical history can be. In this case, perseverance, excellent research skills, and teamwork combined to write the incredible story of a family whose members lived through, and made, history. Although I would have liked to have seen a list of the repositories and exact document numbers included in case readers wanted to look at original documents, Hill-Sutton’s work is a great example of what all genealogical research and family historians should strive to produce. “The Knight Family Legacy: One Family’s Story” really is quite the book and story.