Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives, and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan

Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives, and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan
Written and Illustrated by Ashley Bryan

Publisher’s Summary:
Using original slave auction and plantation estate documents, Ashley Bryan offers a moving and powerful picture book that contrasts the monetary value of a slave with the priceless value of life experiences and dreams that a slave owner could never take away.

Imagine being looked up and down and being valued as less than chair. Less than an ox. Less than a dress. Maybe about the same as…a lantern.

You, an object. An object to sell.

In his gentle yet deeply powerful way, Ashley Bryan goes to the heart of how a slave is given a monetary value by the slave owner, tempering this with the one thing that CAN’T be bought or sold–dreams. Inspired by the actual will of a plantation owner that lists the worth of each and every one of his “workers,” Bryan has created collages around that document, and others like it. Through fierce paintings and expansive poetry, he imagines and interprets each person’s life on the plantation, as well as the life their owner knew nothing about–their dreams and pride in knowing that they were worth far more than an Overseer or Madam ever would guess. Visually epic, and never before done, this stunning picture book is unlike anything you’ve seen.

Primary Source Pairing:
A primary source of an actual slave-related document is brought to life by author and illustrator Ashley Bryan. Bryan acquired a collection of slave-related documents dated from the 1820s-1860s, and connected them with a document titled “Fairchilds Appraisement of the Estate.” Freedom Over Me tells us their stories and dreams through poetry and illustrations.

This book holds many opportunities for visual literacy activities. Each illustration is worth a slow look to gather all the details of the artwork, including components of collaged documents. Invite students to study each image as they read the accompanying text with each person’s story and then their dreams.

For this primary source pairing, present a document advertising an auction for slaves in 1842. This document is similar in nature to what author and illustrator Ashely Bryan used for inspiration to create this book. Encourage students to make connections between who and what is included in Freedom Over Me and what can be seen on this document.

Additionally, in the book Charlotte and Bacus “jumped the broom,” a custom for slaves when they married. For more information on this custom and to read about the 1866 Cohabitation Act which gave men and women who married as slaves the right to have their marriage legalized in Virginia, view the primary source pairing for the book Ellen’s Broom, written by Daniel Minter and illustrated by Kelly Starling Lyons, a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award Honor Book in 2013.

Questions for Discussion:

  • Describe what you see.
  • What do you notice first?
  • How much of the text can you read? What does it say?
  • What do you see that looks strange or unfamiliar?
  • How are the words arranged?
  • What do you notice about the page the writing appears on?
  • What do you see on the page besides writing?
  • What other details can you see?
  • What do you think was happening when it was created?
  • What tools and materials were used to create it?
  • What can you learn from examining this?
  • Make a connection between something on this document with something you read in the text of Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives, and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan.

Book Cover and Summary: Follett
Slave Auction Document: Library of Congress