Books for changing the world
Haunted by Slavery
A Memoir of a Southern White Woman in the Freedom Struggle

A stirring memoir by Gwendolyn Midlo Hall: historian of slavery, veteran political activist, and widow of Black Bolshevik author Harry Haywood.

The memoir of Gwendolyn Midlo Hall offers today's activists and readers an accessible and intimate examination of a crucial era in American radical history.

Born in 1929 New Orleans to left-wing Jewish parents, Gwendolyn Midlo Hall's life has spanned nearly a century of engagement in anti-racist, internationalist political activism. In this moving and instructive chronicle of her remarkable life, Midlo Hall recounts her experiences as an anti-racist activist, a Communist Party militant, and a scholar of slavery in the Americas, as well as the wife and collaborator of the renowned African-American author and Communist leader Harry Haywood. Telling the story of her life against the backdrop of the important political and social developments of the 20th century, Midlo Hall offers new insights about a critical period in the history of labor and civil rights movements in the United States.

Detailing everything from Midlo Hall's co-founding of the only inter-racial youth organization in the South when she was 16-years-old, to her pioneering work establishing digital slave databases, to her own struggles against cruel and pervasive sexism, Haunted by Slavery is a gripping account of a life defined by profound dedication to a cause.

  • “After reading Haunted by Slavery, it has become even more clear to me that [Midlo Hall] explicitly embodies what longtime executive editor of Ebony magazine and popular historian Lerone Bennett Jr. often referred to as ‘living history’ in reference to those freedom fighters in black history who shared their life stories and varied experiences with upcoming generations. [Midlo] Hall is a quintessential witness-participant of close to a century of American life and history.” —Pero G. Dagbovie, from the Foreword

    “What a refreshing book! Gwendolyn Midlo Hall’s spunky, riveting, chronicle of a life of political activism and groundbreaking historical scholarship reminds us of the Left’s crucial role in the Black struggle against White supremacy and of her own revolutionary use of digital technology in the remaking of American history.” —Nell Irvin Painter, author of The History of White People and Southern History Across the Color Line

    “In Haunted by Slavery, renowned scholar and activist Gwendolyn Midlo Hall tells her remarkable life story with the same passion, conviction, depth and beauty that has guided her work for decades. Drawing on her personal experiences and extensive knowledge of history and politics, Midlo Hall’s memoir lays bare the intricacies of race, gender, class and power.” —Keisha N. Blain, author of Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom

    Haunted by Slavery gives us a rare, up-close look at the Black freedom struggle across the twentieth century and the massive repression of Black and white radicals, encountered by a white freedom fighter-scholar who throughout her life refused to be a 'good girl.’” —Jeanne Theoharis, Distinguished Professor of Political Science, Brooklyn College, author of A More Beautiful and Terrible History

    Haunted by Slavery is a magnificent account of the revolutionary life of a southern Jewish woman who fought racial inequalities during one of the most dreadful times in US history. When women's fate was to be confined to the domestic space, Gwen became a militant who challenged gender norms, escaped anti-Communist persecution, married a prominent African American activist, and raised her children across several states and countries. This memoir is an inspiring testament written by one of the most esteemed historians of slavery in the United States, who dedicated her entire life to fight for social justice, a strive that persists today.” —Ana Lucia Araujo, Professor of History, Howard University

    “In the overwhelmingly male-dominated, historically conservative field of southern history, Gwendolyn Midlo Hall has been a trailblazer. As an inspiration to countless women historians as well as scholar activists, Midlo Hall’s Haunted by Slavery is an intensely intimate—and at times disarmingly honest—memoir. It offers a glimpse into the life of a white Jewish woman in the Deep South, complicating our prejudices about both the region and its people. Haunted by Slavery is a must-read for anyone interested in questions of race, gender, class, and power in America. Midlo Hall is a national treasure.” —Keri Leigh Merritt, author of Masterless Men

    “Like Dr. Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, this book is bold and engaging. As this white woman from the South recounts her life, we learn how she shaped history as an unrelenting civil rights activist and rewrote history as a path-breaking scholar of slavery in the Americas. All along, Dr. Midlo Hall urges us to fight for justice, seek education, and teach others. There can be no doubt that the world would be a better place if we followed her lead.” —Walter Hawthorne, Professor of African History, Michigan State University

    “In this gripping memoir of a radical American life, the pathbreaking historian Dr. Gwendolyn Midlo Hall draws on almost a century of living memory to tell a story that races from New Orleans to Paris, New York, Mexico, Detroit, North Carolina, New Jersey, Mississippi, and more.

    It’s all here. Her presence at W.E.B. Dubois’s “Behold the Land” speech in 1946. Her arrest at an “interracial” party in 1949. A frank account of her 30-year marriage to the brilliant and troubled Black revolutionary Harry Haywood. Her friendship with Mabel and Robert Williams. Her struggle to survive and grow as a professional historian in a bluntly sexist society. Her years-long harassment by the FBI. Her painstaking archival and pioneering database work to restore the historical identities of enslaved Africans and Black Americans. It’s not a story you’ve heard before, and it’s one you won’t forget.” —Ned Sublette, co-author of The American Slave Coast

    “Dr. Midlo Hall's memoirs tell an intriguing story of survival. It is a love story about heartbreak, courage, and scholarship. As an awarded professor with over seventy years of study in courthouses and archives, Dr. Midlo-Hall has helped countless students and scholars understand the history of Africans in Louisiana through her slave database. For the first time, readers will learn the secrets behind the life of this scholar, who as a teenager started her work as a civil rights activist and freedom fighter while working in her father's law office in New Orleans.” —Kathe Hambrick, Founder, River Road African American Museum and Dir. of Interpretation, West Baton Rouge Museum

    “The “Allées Gwendolyn Midlo Hall” is a memorial built at the Whitney Plantation Museum of slavery near New Orleans and dedicated to remembering and honoring all the people who were enslaved in Louisiana. This book allows everybody to understand why the name of its author was chosen in the naming of the said memorial.” —Dr. Ibrahima Seck, director of research, Whitney Plantation Museum of Slavery

    “Deeply moving and exceptionally current. Professor Hall has kindly opened a window and allowed us to peer through into her extraordinary life. A life full with both joys and sorrows, but more than anything, signalled by her unwavering commitment to make our world a better place.” —Manuel Barcia, Chair of Global History, University of Leeds

Other books by Gwendolyn Midlo Hall

  • Haunted by Slavery

    A stirring memoir by Gwendolyn Midlo Hall: historian of slavery, veteran political activist, and widow of Black Bolshevik author Harry Haywood.