Oct. 19, 2011
'Accidental Slaveowner' Author to Give Reading at Emory Oct. 24
Author Mark Auslander will hold a public reading and book signing next week at Emory University to discuss his new release, “The Accidental Slaveowner: Revisiting a Myth of Race and Finding an American Family.” The book details various myths about “Miss Kitty,” an enslaved woman named Catherine Boyd who was owned by Methodist Bishop James Osgood Andrew, the first president of Emory’s board of trustees when the original campus was located in Oxford, Ga.
The event will take place at 4 p.m. Oct. 24 in the Jones Room on the third floor of the Robert W. Woodruff Library at Emory University. Auslander will talk about the important role Emory’s Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL) played in his research.
Formerly a professor at Oxford College and in Emory’s Graduate Institute of Liberal Arts, Auslander is now an associate professor of anthropology and director of the Museum of Culture and Environment at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Wash.
His interest in Miss Kitty’s story began when he was teaching his freshman Introduction to Sociology class at Oxford. He took the class on a brief walking tour of an old, segregated cemetery. “To illustrate questions about race, I wanted them to observe the discrepancies between the two sides of the cemetery in Oxford,” he recalls. “The white side of the cemetery was beautifully maintained, but the African American side — the city was not keeping it up.”
Auslander thought it was a good lesson on 21st century attitudes about race in the South, but his students wanted to do something more — take it on as a cleanup project. As group members worked on restoring the cemetery and documenting the history of the buried, they realized how many generations of families had worked at Emory, in slavery and freedom.
“And we began to hear more and more about the story of Miss Kitty [from the townspeople],” Auslander says. “That’s really what launched me on this book and took me into MARBL records and into archives around the country.”
The book examines the effects of Miss Kitty's story on perceptions of race in Oxford and among southern Methodists, and chronicles Auslander's efforts to find out the true story of Miss Kitty and her family.
The author eventually located Boyd's descendants — two great-great-great-granddaughters living in Philadelphia — and spent time with them at Oxford and Emory, showing them her gravesite and documents pertaining to her life.
Auslander says the MARBL collections were the cornerstone of his research for the book.
"I could not have done this work without the MARBL resources and the extraordinary collections," he says.
Sunday, Oct. 23, 2 p.m.
Public dedication of new headstone for Catherine Boyd (Miss Kitty) in Oxford City Cemetery, Oxford, Ga.
Monday, Oct. 24, 10:30 a.m.
Lecture: "Architectures of Race: Space, Power and Difference in Emory's History," Major Room, Bowden Hall, Emory Department of History.
Tuesday, Oct. 25, 4 p.m.
Reading/signing, Tarbutton Theater, Oxford College, Oxford, Ga.
View more of Auslander's upcoming events, on campus and around metro Atlanta.