Some great news from the authors of
"If These Stones Could Talk" !
We were just informed that our book has been reviewed by a committee of the New Jersey Studies Academic Alliance who has selected our work, “If These Stones Could Talk” for the New Jersey Studies Academic Alliance Authors Award (NJSAA) in the category of non-fiction!
Here’s a little background on the NJSAA. The NJSAA was organized in 1992 with the mission “To bring together individuals involved in the study of New Jersey to further knowledge and act as a clearinghouse for information about teaching and research on New Jersey. The Alliance is by its very nature interdisciplinary and involves people at every level of teaching and research. Members include teachers (kindergarten through college), historians, geographers, museum and historical organization personnel, archivists and librarians.”
After picking our jaws up off the floor we further read, “We all greatly enjoyed the thoroughness of the research and the wonderful inclusion of so much primary source material and interviews that will be a huge help to future researchers.”
We want to thank you again for your continued support of our work as we bring you weekly missives that hopefully make you think about the larger African American narrative; their role in America and how our mission has always been to bring this history to life.
Elaine & Beverly
"If These Stones Could Talk"
A Book by Beverly Mills and Elaine Buck
Released November, 2018
Authors and SSAAM co-founders Beverly Mills and Elaine Buck began collaborating over a decade ago into researching the lives of their African American ancestors who resided in the Sourland Mountain Region and surrounding areas.
Through many years of research, examination of records, deeds, church records and collection of oral histories, Mills and Buck were persuaded to write a book entitled, “If These Stones Could Talk”, which was released in November, 2018.
The goal of the book is to provide a clearer understanding of the African American experience and accomplishments of those who lived in the Sourland Mountain Region.
“If These Stones Could Talk” chronicles not only the hardships and stark realities that so many Blacks faced as slaves, and then “apprentices” in New Jersey, but also highlights the thriving communities, loyal veterans, committed churches and real economic contributions made by their ancestors that, without their efforts, were largely forgotten in local history accounts.
Mills and Buck believe that American history has long presented a single narrative that has not adequately included African American history.
After reading “If These Stones Could Talk”, the authors hope readers will come away with a clearer understanding of how African American history is American history.
Authors Beverly Mills & Elaine Buck
Book Launch at the Grounds for Sculpture
November 7, 2018
Authors Beverly Mills & Elaine Buck with Kim Nagy at the Book Launch, November 8, 2018. Photo by Heidi Wilenius
Reflections on the Launch of
"If These Stones Could Talk"
Wild River Consulting and Publishing
As I walked into the Grounds for Sculpture on November 7th, 2018 and saw Beverly Mills and Elaine Buck on stage for the launch event of their book, If These Stones Could Talk (Wild River Books, November) it was one of the most exciting moments of my life. I was--and remain-- so deeply honored to have worked with Beverly and Elaine for three years and to have helped shape their research into a writing plan. Over that time, we shaped the puzzle pieces of drafts and chapters into a final published book that gained critical acclaim from Pulitzer-prize winning historian James McPherson, Rep. Bonnie Watson-Coleman among so many others. The glowing reviews are still coming in!
It is not very often in one’s life that a project comes along that taps into both your immediate background and your central passion. I am a publisher who specializes in helping my clients build their brands and develop their audiences right as I help them with their publication plans. But my passion is for bringing untold perspectives and stories to light, a focus I’ve applied in various ways since I went to graduate school at University of Connecticut, Storrs. Back then, in the mid 1990s, I had a concentration in history, anthropology and what was then called “ethnohistory.”
From my very first college history class, I felt that revisiting primary documents with new eyes was an urgent act. We need to continue to give more voice to those who have been excluded from the local and national histories--and that act, that necessary expansion of perspective has always felt to me a health-giving immersion of everybody’s truth - not just a few people with power—but a full breath of fresh air for everyone.
After graduate school, I went to work for Princeton University Press, but again, it always seemed to me that more needed to be done to bring a fuller multidimensional history to the earliest school experiences we can find--and to the public in general-- and not just confine such vital explorations to the ivory tower.
History is powerful. Not to broaden our understanding of the past, not to introduce untold stories, unseen faces and unheard voices threatens our public health with a poison drip of one-sided narratives--the same old narratives that block and manipulate our understanding of the present.
Beverly and Elaine took an approach that moved me from our very first meeting. I liked them so much immediately and I remember our first call turned into a 45 minute passionate conversation about the terrible legacy of slavery--and how powerful history was in shaping our conceptions of the present. It was a conversation that I couldn’t stop thinking about.
Bev and Elaine’s hunger for a fuller but also more nuanced perspective is also why I was thankful to bring one of my mentors, a historian named Emma Lapsansky Werner to our team. I know Emma as a kindred spirit--an editor and author who never leaves anyone out of historical conversations--and a fine historian in her own right. I knew she who would help bring the work to the highest level of scholarship but never sway from honoring Bev and Elaine’s voices.
All photos by Heidi Wilenius
How did I come to know the Bev and Elaine, and develop plans to publish their book, If These Stones Could Talk?
It was early Spring of 2015 when I received an email that monopolized my attention even during a day of busy meetings. The email was concise, intriguing and unsettling all in one. I first glanced at the name of a friend and colleague, Princeton University Press Humanities Publisher, Rob Tempio who I admire greatly. Rob had suggested to Kate McGuire, the lead librarian on what was named the Stoutsburg Project, email me about transforming an enormous amount of cumulative research in the State of New Jersey--wills, property deeds, vital records, verified oral histories--into an educational history book.
Elaine and Beverly’s research wasn’t your normal shade of arduous. It was downright painful. The more the authors learned about the lives of their ancestors, both freed
Blacks and slaves, the more they found documents as shocking as runaway slave notices, wills that bequeathed their ancestors names next to spoons or signed Revolutionary war papers of Black soldiers who hailed from the Sourland Mountain region--and yet no historic markers graced their memory.
As I grasped the magnitude of their research--and their vision to bring centuries of untold local history to light in manuscript form and hopefully get into the hands of school children and their parents, I realized Bev and Elaine had no written material yet. Yet from our first call and subsequent meetings, I could already feel their powerful voices. They then invited me to their popular powerpoint presentation at the Hopewell Train Station-- A Proud Heritage--where I saw their knack for historical research and storytelling in action.
But I had to tell Elaine and Beverly what I have to tell all potential authors and clients as a small company--that it will take a lot of time, money and hard work to bring their book to publication and raise visibility on their project. They were not daunted and began fundraising right away!
Of course, they’ve been working with the Sourland Conservancy and Stoutsburg Cemetery on bringing Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum to life at the same time they’ve been writing their book. They bring new meaning to the word tireless! The museum will be such an important component of completing local history perceptions and creating essential learning experiences for the public.
How was the book created and developed?
I mentioned this in my speech at the Grounds for Sculpture and I meant it. Working with Elaine and Bev was like pulling marathon work-sessions with your best friends. They cooked me soup and fed me bagels at Elaine’s house as we spread papers over the table, made phone calls and set up interviews and dove into their research.
We went through boxes of papers and links and a mountain of Google docs that became gigantic puzzles. We wrote and rewrote outlines and bibliographies and drafted a writing plan that excitingly turned into formal chapters with the help of a research librarian and highly talented genealogist who helped us wrestle with those gigantic puzzles, Hope Tillman.
After that, we began more work with the professional historian I named above, Emma. She is co-author of The Struggle for Freedom: A History of African Americans. When the manuscript was finished, Emma contributed a moving foreword. Here are a few of her words:
Elaine and Bev’s story is about both race-based pain and interracial triumph; it’s about pettiness and greed and prejudice and ignorance and exclusion. But it’s also about teamwork and mutual human concern, and about the intricacies of family life among and between White and Black Americans, stretching from the eighteenth and nineteenth century into the twenty-first century….
How did the book signing event at Grounds for Sculpture come together?
With the history of the Sankofa Symposiums at the Grounds for Sculpture, which are an incredible statewide initiative everyone should know about so I am linking our last press release about it.
Bev and Elaine came up with the concept of having their launch there to celebrate all the many contributors and supporters to their work. The Grounds for Sculpture has been incredibly supportive of Bev and Elaine--and it felt so perfect to launch there.
Beverly and Elaine put the evening program together to include two people from whom they learned much and were inspired by: Marion T. Lane and Joyce Mosley, both of whom have important stories to tell. They also asked two excellent speakers to read from the book: Ivey Avery, who is renowned for her reenactments of characters like Harriet Tubman, and Joyce Yon. Hearing Ivey and Joyce read the chapters was powerful for me.
I also loved the moment when Beverly and Elaine named all of the attending Sourland family members representing the “Resident Voices,” an entire chapter in the book. The whole launch evening had a warm glow to it--and I’m so honored to have been a part of it. The excitement, love and overflowing support for Beverly and Elaine and for If These Stones Could Talk seemed palpable in the air. Indeed, it was was fitting that Beverly and Elaine ended the event by singing a spiritual.