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Beatrice’s Ledger: Coming of Age in the Jim Crow South by Ruth R. Martin with Vivian B. Martin

Published May 2022

Available from the University of South Carolina Press.

A vivid and moving story about family, courage, and the power of education

Ruth remembers the day the sheriff pulled up in front of her family’s home with a white neighbor who claimed Ruth’s father owed her recently deceased husband money. It was the early 1940s in Jim Crow South Carolina, and even at the age of eleven, Ruth knew a Black person’s word wasn’t trusted. But her father remained calm as he waited on her mother’s return from the house. Ruth’s mother had retrieved a gray book, which she opened and handed to the sheriff. Satisfied by what he saw, the sheriff and the woman left. Ruth didn’t know what was in that book, but she knew it was important.

In Beatrice’s Ledger, Ruth R. Martin brings to life the stories behind her mother’s entries in that well-worn ledger, from financial transactions to important details about her family’s daily struggle to survive in Smoaks, South Carolina, a small town sixty miles outside of Charleston. Once the land of plantations, slavery, and cotton, by the time Ruth was born in 1930 many of the plantations were gone but the cotton remained. Ruth’s family made a living working the land, and her father owned a local grist and sawmill used by Black and white residents in the area. The Martins worked hard, but life was often difficult, and Ruth offers rich descriptions of the sometimes-perilous existence of a Black family living in rural South Carolina at mid-century.

But there was joy as well as hardship, and readers will be drawn into the story of life in Smoaks. Enriched with public records research and interviews with friends and family still living in Smoaks, Martin weaves history, humor, and family lore into a compelling narrative about coming of age as a Black woman in the Jim Crow South. Martin recounts her journey from Smoaks to Tuskegee Institute and beyond. It is a story about the power of family; about the importance of the people we meet along the way; and about the place we call home.

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