In Of Blood and Sweat: Black Lives and the Making of White Power and Wealth, Clyde W. Ford confronts readers with a difficult truth about the current state of American affairs: Our politics, economy and social structure are inextricably linked to the enslavement of Black people. The freight trains and trucks that carry goods across the country follow the rail lines and roads built by enslaved people. Our insurance companies, banks and stock exchanges—in both the North and the South—are direct descendants of the institutions that financed and protected the slave trade and commodities produced with slave labor. Our Constitution is the result of compromises with slave-holding states, ensuring through the three-fifths clause, the Fugitive Slave Clause and the Electoral College that power remained in the hands of powerful white men and that slavery continued to flourish.
Ford wants readers to realize the lasting and severe harm that slavery has done to our country on both an intellectual level and a visceral, emotional one. There is no lack of evidence to support his argument, and his book is very well researched and documented. But unlike histories that are so loaded with documents, statistics and official accounts of proceedings that they numb the reader, transforming the tragedy of the past into mere abstraction, Of Blood and Sweat adroitly avoids these pitfalls. Instead, Ford weaves the stories of real people who lived through these times into his narrative, making the information feel immediate and alive. The author of 13 fiction and nonfiction books, including the memoir Think Black, Ford brings to life Antoney and Isabell, an Angolan couple who were among the first enslaved Africans brought to Virginia in 1619; Briton Hammon, an enslaved man whose New England owner permitted him to become a sailor; S.G.W. Dill, a white former Confederate soldier who became a passionate advocate for equality—and was murdered for it by white supremacists; and countless others, the sinners and the sinned against, whose lives illuminate not only what happened but why.
More importantly, Ford makes a clear case that the past is never over. The wounds inflicted by slavery have never healed, and he argues that they will continue to harm our country until we deal with them honestly. For many Americans, reading Of Blood and Sweat will be an excellent first step in that process.