Authors explore the debate around reparations for slavery

By Valerie Chavez | March 2, 2017


Daina Ramey Berry and Ray Winbush led a panel on the complex history of slavery in the United States at Red Emma’s Bookstore Coffeehouse on Saturday, Feb. 25th. The discussion revolved around providing reparations for slavery, which involves making amends for the abuses that black slaves faced in the past.

Berry and Winbush both read excerpts from their recent books, explored their respective ideas and fielded questions from the audience.

Berry is an associate professor of history and African diaspora studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Her book, The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, from Womb to Grave, in the Building of a Nation, explores how slaves were often bought and sold like commodities throughout their lives.

In order to set-up the proper historical backdrop for the discussion, the event began with Berry reading from her book.

“The book is structured around trying to understand when enslaved people realized or gained some type of understanding that they were [being] treated as human commodities.” she said.

Berry shared slave narratives where people explored their positions in society and the effect of being treated as commodities. Read more...

The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: A New Book on the Value of the Enslaved

By Ibram X. Kendi | January 24, 2017

The author of The Price for Their Pound of Flesh is Daina Ramey Berry. Professor Berry is an associate professor of history and African and African diaspora studies and the George W. Littlefield Fellow in American History at the University of Texas at Austin.

Dr Daina Ramey Berry
An award-winning historian, she is also a Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians. Berry is a specialist in the history of gender and slavery in the United States with a particular emphasis on the social and economic history of the nineteenth century.

Her first book, Swing the Sickle for the Harvest is Ripe: Gender and Slavery in Antebellum Georgia (University of Illinois Press, 2007), examined slave labor, family, and community in two distinct regions. She is also the editor-in-chief of the award-winning book Enslaved Women in America: An Encyclopedia (ABC-Clio, 2012), and she published the award-winning volume Slavery and Freedom in Savannah (University of Georgia Press, 2014), edited with Leslie Harris. In addition, Berry has appeared on several syndicated radio and television shows, including NPR, NBC, PBS, C-SPAN, and the History Channel. She is an advocate for public history and served as one of the technical advisers for the remake of the Roots mini-series, which aired in the summer of 2016. Follow Professor Berry on Twitter @lbofflesh. Read more...

NEW RELEASE: The Price for Their Pound of Flesh

Coming January 24th, 2017

Groundbreaking look at slaves as commodities through every phase of life, from birth to death and beyond, in early America

In life and in death, slaves were commodities, their monetary value assigned based on their age, gender, health, and the demands of the market. The Price for Their Pound of Flesh is the first book to explore the economic value of enslaved people through every phase of their lives—including preconception, infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, the senior years, and death—in the early American domestic slave trade.

Covering the full “life cycle,” historian Daina Ramey Berry shows the lengths to which enslavers would go to maximize profits and protect their investments. Illuminating “ghost values” or the prices placed on dead enslaved people, Berry explores the little-known domestic cadaver trade and traces the illicit sales of dead bodies to medical schools.

This book is the culmination of more than ten years of Berry’s exhaustive research on enslaved values, drawing on data unearthed from sources such as slave-trading records, insurance policies, cemetery records, and life insurance policies. Writing with sensitivity and depth, she resurrects the voices of the enslaved and provides a rare window into enslaved peoples’ experiences and thoughts, revealing how enslaved people recalled and responded to being appraised, bartered, and sold throughout the course of their lives. Reaching out from these pages, they compel the reader to bear witness to their stories, to see them as human beings, not merely commodities.

A profoundly humane look at an inhumane institution, The Price for Their Pound of Flesh will have a major impact how we think about slavery, reparations, capitalism, nineteenth-century medical education, and the value of life and death.

"Freedom Ain't Never Been Free!" The Martin Luther King Jr. Sunrise Celebration

By George M. Eberhart | January 23, 2017

The Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Observance and Sunrise Celebration has been a staple each Monday at the ALA Midwinter Meeting for the past 17 years. Sponsored by the Social Responsibilities Round Table and the Black Caucus of the American Library Association, the celebration’s theme in Atlanta was “Freedom Ain’t Never Been Free!” and featured short readings from King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and other sermons, speeches, and writings. Some 200 turned out at 6:30 a.m. for the observance.

Dr. Daina Ramey Berry, ALA Midwinter Meeting 2017

The keynote speaker was Daina Ramey Berry, associate professor of history and African and African diaspora studies at the University of Texas at Austin and author of The Price for Their Pound of Flesh (2017), a history of the economic value of slaves from birth to death.

“Slavery does not stop people from fighting for freedom,” Berry said. In her book she wanted to explore the “faith and hope of those held captive. What can we learn from them?” One of her sources of inspiration was a slave named Mingo, who was thrown into prison prior to being sold and separated from his family. Read more...

2016 Media Production Grant Recipients

By Humanities Media Project | January 2, 2017

Mapping the Texas Slave Trade Routes


Winston and Berry’s project, Mapping the Texas Slave Trade Routes, is an interdisciplinary research effort that draws upon the work of UT faculty, staff, graduate, and undergraduate scholars across campus to address the previously under-researched subject of slave trading in Texas and other parts of the Americas. Over the duration of the grant period, their interdisciplinary team researched slavery and domestic slave trading in Texas between 1821–1865, including a critical review of census records and other primary documents such as maps, narratives, and newspapers on the topic. They then integrated research data with geo-mapping and data visualization technologies in consideration of potential ways to present our findings. Research efforts culminated in a trip to the southeastern coast of Texas, including visits to the cities of Matagorda, Wharton, Bay City, and Palacios where they visited museums and libraries as well as cemeteries and other sites of significance. Read more...

Beacon Authors [and Editors!] in the News

By Beacon Press | October 21, 2016

On Tuesday the New York Times published an op-ed by Beacon Press author Daina Ramey Berry. The piece, “Nat Turner’s Skull and My Student’s Purse of Skin,” explores the history of what Berry calls “postmortem consumption,” and the need to put an end to the practice once and for all. Berry’s forthcoming book, The Price for Their Pound of Flesh, also received its first trade review this week from Kirkus Reviews. They wrote, “In this sharp, affecting study, Berry reminds us of the cold calculus at the intersection of slavery and capitalism...A well-researched, effectively presented piece of scholarship that forthrightly confronts slavery's brute essence.”

Back at the New York Times, Ann Neumann, author of The Good Death, wrote a piece for the Well blog, "When a Friend Dies, What Do I Say To the Family?" Elsewhere, Adrienne Berard talked to for a write-up on her new book, Water Tossing Boulders.

Dr Daina Ramey Berry Beacon Press

And Beacon authors weren’t the only ones in the news this week. Publishers Weekly ran a “Meet the Editor” feature on our own, Gayatri Patnaik. The article highlights her history in the publishing industry, as well as her new role as Editorial Director.

Why Black Studies matters in an age of liberal arts angst

By Deborah Douglas | September 22, 2016

Hampton University junior Talia Sharpp knew she had to come correct when she told her mother about plans to switch from a business major to political science so she could study the Black Panther Party. You see, Terri Sharpp, her mother was clear about “no basketweaving” classes and choosing a major that would deliver a high return on investment.

“I’d have to be able to rationalize the decision I made to my mother,” says Talia, 20, who is in a fellowship program preparing her for a full ride through her doctoral studies, a huge part of the appeal she made to her mom through text messages. Read more...


Daina Ramey Berry: Public Historian in Focus

By J. R. Jones | March 24, 2016

Daina Ramey Berry, Associate Professor in History and African Diaspora Studies and the George W. Littlefield Fellow in American History, continues her ground-breaking work as a prolific public historian and academic. A scholar whose work examines the intersections of gender, economics, and the history of American slavery, Dr. Berry combines extensive public history advocacy and student mentorship with rigorous scholarship. Read more...


Daina Ramey Berry, Editor receives ALA’s 2013 Outstanding Reference Award

The Reference and User Services Association (RUSA), a division of American Library Association has named Enslaved Women in America: An Encyclopedia (Greenwood Press, 2012), co-edited by Profs. Daina Ramey Berryand Deleso A. Alford, to the 2013 Outstanding Reference Sources List.

Book Cover of Enslaved Women in America co-edited by Daina Ramey Berry
Enslaved Women in America: An Encyclopedia "provides an authoritative account of the daily lives of enslaved women in the United States, from colonial times to emancipation following the Civil War. Through essays, photos, and primary source documents, the female experience is explored, and women are depicted as central, rather than marginal, figures in history."


The Outstanding Reference Sources Committee was established in 1958 to recommend the most outstanding reference publications for small and medium-sized public and academic libraries. The selected titles are valuable reference resources, and are highly recommended for inclusion in any library’s collection.

"I am so pleased to receive this award from the Reference and Users Services Association" said Prof. Berry. "This project took six years to complete and I was fortunate to work with more than 75 scholars from universities in the US, Canada, England, and New Zealand. It was an honor to publish essays from scholars at every rank and from a variety of institutions. Being recognized as a Outstanding Reference Source is a compliment to all of those who contributed to this encyclopedia."

The RUSA represents librarians and library staff in the fields of reference, specialized reference, collection development, readers’ advisory and resource sharing. RUSA is the foremost organization of reference and information professionals who make the connections between people and the information sources, services, and collection materials they need.

ALA Outstanding References 2013
RUSA Outstand Reference Sources List

Daina Ramey Berry Wins NEH Fellowship for research on social,
economic history of slavery in the U.S.

Daina Ramey Berry, associate professor in the departments of History and African and African Diaspora Studies, has been awarded a $50,400 National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) fellowship for her research on the social and economic history of slavery in the United States.

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the NEH supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation.

“The National Endowment for the Humanities is proud to fund the nation’s finest humanities projects,” says NEH Deputy Chairman Carole Watson.

The funding will support her book project titled “The Value of Human Chattel from Preconception to Postmortem,” which explores public and private market transactions and appraisals of enslaved people in the American domestic market from preconception to postmortem. A scholar of American slavery, Berry teaches courses in 19th-century United States, African American, and African Diaspora history.

In addition to her university teaching, she is committed to educating a wider audience by serving as a consultant for documentary films, genealogical research, museum exhibits and K-12 public programing. Visit her website for more about her work.