- In His Own Words: Houston H. Holloway's Slavery, Emancipation, and Ministry in Georgia by Houston Hartsfield Holloway
Houston Hartsfield Holloway was a blacksmith, a teacher, a Methodist minister in Georgia, and, for part of his life, an enslaved person. He also composed a 24,000-word autobiography over a period of approximately ten [End Page 420] years, concluding four years before his death. David E. Paterson describes Holloway's autobiographical manuscript as "one of perhaps a handful of surviving autobiographies written by former American slaves, unmediated by an editor or amanuensis, with no mind to publication, and with no evident propaganda agenda" (p. 1).
Paterson uses primary sources, such as contemporary newspapers and local county records, and secondary sources to supplement and interpret Holloway's autobiography. Paterson takes a twofold approach—giving the reader an edited version of Holloway's manuscript and a well-documented summary that places Holloway's life in historical context. Paterson presents the material under subtitle headings such as "Holloway's Emancipation" and "Conjurors, Spirits, Ghosts, and Divine Interventions" (pp. 30, 17). This subject-based narrative is useful in showing Holloway's life as a series of events and situations. This organizational style enables the reader to quickly categorize the content, making for a logically flowing read and allowing researchers to efficiently access and focus on specific topics. In editing Holloway's biography, Paterson also masterfully explains and interprets the self-educated Holloway's idiosyncratic writing style. Additionally, Paterson includes maps, biographical sketches, and genealogical information to further document Holloway'slife.
Holloway wrote in an unassuming manner, with only unadorned statements of fact as he simply recounted events. His life was both remarkable and ordinary. His account of enslavement is absorbingly interesting but reveals nothing that would reshape interpretations of the institution of slavery. Holloway does, however, provide a more credible source than do most slave narratives, as he wrote with no thought of publication and was not prompted by questions from an agenda-driven interviewer. In his newfound freedom, Holloway was no different than other freedpeople as he struggled to form an economically consistent existence. From dealing with the "then Hatefull yankey" in contract negotiations to having trouble collecting on his blacksmith accounts, Holloway made the transition from slavery to freedom (p. 134). His postemancipation life was consumed by making a living as an itinerant minister for several years before reverting to depending solely on his blacksmith skills.
Holloway's account of his ministry is of great value. He gives the reader a working-class perspective on the postwar emergence of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Georgia that is much different from that of other memoirists. Other autobiographical works covering the emergence of black Methodism in Georgia, such as those by Colored Methodist Episcopal bishop Lucius H. Holsey, AME bishops Wesley J. Gaines and William H. Heard, and AME minister Theophilus Gould Steward, were written from the perspective of clergy and focused on the upper-level organization of the black denominations and the authors' personal rise to elite positions. Holloway, however, told of his postemancipation experience in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South; his joining the AME Church; and the financial uncertainty of itinerant ministry. It is in this area that Paterson's summary and editing are most valuable as he puts Holloway's account into context [End Page 421] by explaining the dynamics among Methodists during the early postwar years.
Hollow ay's edited autobiography and Paterson's thoroughly researched interpretive summary could each stand alone as valuable historical sources. Together they form a book worth reading and a resource that no researcher or teacher of African American or Georgia history should be without.