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Freeman, the new novel by Leonard Pitts, Jr., takes place in the first few months following the Confederate surrender and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Upon learning of Lee's surrender, Sam--a runaway slave who once worked for the Union Army--decides to leave his safe haven in Philadelphia and set out on foot to return to the war-torn South. What compels him on this almost-suicidal course is the desire to find his wife, the mother of his only child, whom he and their son left behind 15 years earlier on the Mississippi farm to which they all "belonged."

At the same time, Sam's wife, Tilda, is being forced to walk at gunpoint with her owner and two of his other slaves from the charred remains of his Mississippi farm into Arkansas, in search of an undefined place that would still respect his entitlements as slaveowner and Confederate officer.

The book's third main character, Prudence, is a fearless, headstrong white woman of means who leaves her Boston home for Buford, Mississippi, to start a school for the former bondsmen, and thus honor her father’s dying wish.

At bottom, Freeman is a love story--sweeping, generous, brutal, compassionate, patient--about the feelings people were determined to honor, despite the enormous constraints of the times. It is this aspect of the book that should ensure it a strong, vocal, core audience of African-American women, who will help propel its likely critical acclaim to a wider audience. At the same time, this book addresses several themes that are still hotly debated today, some 145 years after the official end of the Civil War. Like Cold Mountain, Freeman illuminates the times and places it describes from a fresh perspective, with stunning results. It has the potential to become a classic addition to the literature dealing with this period. Few other novels so powerfully capture the pathos and possibility of the era particularly as it reflects the ordeal of the black slaves grappling with the promise--and the terror--of their new status as free men and women.

432 pages, Paperback

First published May 8, 2012

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About the author

Leonard Pitts Jr.

16 books348 followers
Leonard Pitts Jr. was born and raised in Southern California. He is a columnist for the Miami Herald and won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary. He was also a finalist for the Pulitzer in 1992. In 1997, Pitts took first place for commentary in division four (newspapers with a circulation of more than 300,000) in the American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors' Ninth Annual Writing Awards competition. His columns on the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman have garnered much attention from his peers and readers alike.

Pitts's column, "We'll Go Forward From This Moment," an angry and defiant open letter to the terrorists, generated upwards of 30,000 emails and has since been set to music, reprinted in poster form, read on television by Regis Philbin, and quoted by Congressman Richard Gephardt as part of the Democratic Party's weekly radio address. He is a three-time recipient of the National Association of Black Journalists’ Award of Excellence, a five-time recipient of the Atlantic City Press Club’s National Headliners Award and a seven-time recipient of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Green Eyeshade Award.

In a career spanning 35 years, Leonard Pitts, Jr. has been a columnist, a college professor, a radio producer, and a lecturer, but if you ask him to define himself, he will invariably choose one word: writer.

He lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife and children.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 660 reviews
Profile Image for Wilhelmina Jenkins.
242 reviews207 followers
July 6, 2012
This book will stay in my mind and heart for a long, long time. It is, without a doubt, painful to read - the post-Civil war period was bloody and brutal, and Pitts does not hold back the level of assault on the bodies and minds of those who lived through this period. But the heart of the book is the inability of even the cruelest of institutions to crush humanity. Loyalty, persistence, passion, redemption, compassion, and above all, love and hope - these qualities persist. And healing - physical, but more importantly psychological and emotional healing - spread from one person to another and back again. The characters in this book are not perfect - they make mistakes, sometimes for good reasons, sometimes not. But they are human, and they assert that humanity in spite of all that they endure. Pitts has said that he wrote this book as a love song to Black women, personifying that love in the character of Sam, who undertakes an almost impossible journey to be reunited with Tilda, his wife that he left behind in slavery 15 years earlier. It is certainly that, but for me, it was a love song to all of those who endured so much and retained their humanity so that they could pass it on to those, like me, who were to come. There is a song written by Bernice Johnson Reagon, founder of the a cappella singing group Sweet Honey In The Rock, called "I Remember, I Believe", that says, "I don’t know how my mother walked her trouble down; I don’t know how my father stood his ground. I don’t know how my people survived slavery. I do remember, that’s why I believe." I do not know how those who came before me lived through it all, but my hope is that many who don't know their stories, particular the post-slavery stories told here, will read this book and remember. I remember, I believe, and I give thanks for their lives.
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,780 reviews1,458 followers
June 22, 2017
Too often people assume that when a war ends the trouble stops, the problems are over. That is far from true. It took over a century to begin to fix the Civil Rights problem that was supposedly resolved with the conclusion of the Civil War in 1865! This book is an excellent study on what life was like for the blacks in the years following the Civil War. This book is all about how the Dixie Southerners continued to view the colored. Views did not change overnight. It is also about how the blacks viewed themselves. What is freedom when you have no money and no employment and no place to live? What is freedom when you don’t know where your mother, father, wife and children are or even if they are still alive? What is freedom after rape and murder and repetitive beatings? How do you reach emotional stability after living through such horror? Can you forgive?

This book draws a picture that I believe to be accurate and realistic. It cannot be an easy read or a comforting read, but it ends with hope and a promise for the future. Parts were hard for me to read, and that is because the author made me care for the characters. Some were clever, others despicable, but all of them felt real. I appreciated that both sides, the slave owners and the slaves, were portrayed fairly. One was not all wrong and the other all right. Even the most despicable were occasionally, well, at least not all bad!

I also liked how the plot unrolled. The author created a fascinating story that you want to understand. You want to know what is going to happen and how the problems will be resolved. At the end you understand everything. There are no loose ends, and I very much like the ending, being both realistic and hopeful too.

At first I was uncomfortable with the narration by Sean Crisden, but by the end I loved it. What bothered me at first was when he spoke lines presented in the third person. He stops at the periods and commas, and I felt he was listening to himself with a tone of self-satisfaction. However as you listen further, and as you become aware of each character’s personality, there are more and more dialogs and these are just perfect. He captures the Southern dialect and the Yankee dialect, the whites and the blacks, women and men and children, all equally well.

I will close with a quote from the book:

“You gotta have hope. To hope is the whole point. Being scared all the time ain’t much different from bein dead.”

There are good lines to suck on! I liked this book very much, and I highly recommend the audio format.

Profile Image for Faith.
1,900 reviews534 followers
November 21, 2021
Unfortunately, after the end of the Civil War the white southerners didn’t just suddenly become decent human beings. They continued to assert their God given superiority over colored people. They demonstrated this superiority through harassment, murder and an obstinate refusal to accept that they had lost the war.

This book follows three groups of people who eventually converge. Prudence is a white, Bostonian widow who wants to fulfill her father’s wish to open a school for former slaves. Sam is a runaway slave, and former Union soldier, who travels from Philadelphia to reunite with the wife he had left behind. Tilda should be free now, but she is forced to travel with her crazed former master, who considers her to be the only property he has left. The problem is, the author made me actually care about the characters in this book. So when one awful thing after another happened to them, it hurt. Well written, but full of violence, desperation and despair. There are too many trigger warnings to mention. This is not a feel-good story, but it felt realistic until the end, which was sort of a cop out. I would read this author again. Sean Crisden did an excellent job narrating the audiobook. He did female voices that didn’t make me cringe.
Profile Image for Des.
210 reviews
September 16, 2012
This was a heavy book and I'm not referring to the weight because I read it on a Nook. I'm talking about the weight of emotion that powered through me as I read the heartbreaking things that take place. There was a particular scene where I was just bawling and I had to put my Nook down and continue reading the next day. Much good that did me because I bawled again a couple of pages later. Some other GR friends have commented that Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration (which is nonfiction and chronicles the migration of African Americans from the South to the North) steeled them for this book but since I haven't read it yet I don't have a basis for comparison. I guess I'm in for more pain and crying when I eventually read that *sigh*

Pitts weaves a tale that centers around three people: Sam, who is on a journey from Philadelphia to Mississippi to find Tilda, his long lost wife and it turns out to be a painful quest both physically and emotionally. Tilda for her part is stuck with a slave master who has evidently not gotten the memo that the Civil War has ended and refuses to let her go. The third character is Prudence, a white woman from Boston who goes to Mississippi (with her 'sister' Bonnie) to build a school for newly freed African Americans.

Sam was intriguing. His non-use of contractions made him sound very formal. It was a bit disconcerting sometimes and felt really out of place in the middle of everyone else's speech. He's very intelligent and his thought process really showed his high intellect and depth.

Tilda was complicated for me because even though I got a lot of her story through her and Sam's eyes, I still didn't really feel like I knew her. It sounds strange I know, but while with Sam I could feel the raw emotion and see the demons he was fighting, with Tilda I could only feel pity and sympathy from afar. She seemed a bit aloof and I suppose that was a direct consequence of the pain and loss she had gone through. It's a wonder she didn't go insane after all that.

With Prudence, we see a lot of heart, stubbornness and impulsiveness. My opinion about her really wavered. I admired her for taking on taking it upon herself to create the school in Mississippi especially since she could have remained in Boston and continued her life in ignorant bliss. However, I found myself frustrated with her stubbornness, impulsiveness and outright naivete which led to disastrous consequences.

With these characters, Pitts illustrates the uncertainty that newly freed African Americans have to grapple with. What does it mean to be free? How does one begin to piece together a life from painful and lost fragments? How does one even begin to move forward? I was in awe of the sheer resilience and determination of the people he portrayed.

He also captures the desperation and fear of former slave masters who would do anything to hang onto the past, as well as the pervasive attitudes and mentalities of other white people.

An example:
“She’s the only thing of value I still own in this world,” [Jim McFarland] says, pleading.
“I understand,” says Moody. “But Honey is the only thing I still own. Would you deprive me of my property because you have been deprived of yours? Where is the honor in that, Captain?”

When I got to that dialogue in the book and this was about 85% of the way, I was so disgusted and I nearly fell out of my chair in utter disbelief because it was absolutely frightening to confront this type of mentality. I just cannot imagine how owning human beings as property elevates a person's sense of worth and it is an absolute tragedy that such a violent and destructive institution has built civilizations and countries which include the US.

I docked a star for this because there was a scene in the book that I deemed totally unnecessary. It served absolutely no purpose and just felt awkward and desperate in light of all the other things going on. Overall though, this was a beautiful book. The topic of slavery is always difficult to confront and Pitts does a fantastic job of conveying so much of the raw emotion of that time period.
Profile Image for Elle Thornton.
Author 2 books52 followers
September 4, 2015
I know I’m in the presence of fine writing if I find myself studying how the author achieved a passage’s clarity and rightness, its emotional weight. And I know I’m in the presence of a great story if I cry over it. I experienced both as I read Freeman by Leonard Pitts, Jr., a narrative of the lives of three former slaves, a Yankee woman and her adopted African-American sister at the end of the Civil War. A Pulitzer-prize winning newspaper columnist, Pitts unfolds dramatic scenes and dialogue that sounds just the right emotional notes: gravely formal, restrained, ironic. I found myself admiring equally the author’s use of period detail along with the kind of flesh-and-blood descriptions that make an historic novel live, make it breathe. A case in point: his handling of names that white masters arrogantly attached like clothespins to their slaves as opposed to using a man or woman’s actual name. It’s worth noting that Pitts doesn’t simply mention this and move on: he develops a touching scene so that I felt the dehumanizing impact of an evil system that turned even names into raw pain and degradation. Yet Pitts shows the subtleties and contradictions that existed, then as now, in our tangled lives: for example, the slave-master who, albeit briefly, appears to sense the humanity of his one-time slave through a common loss. As I followed the emotional and physical journey of his characters in the ravaged South, Pitts succeeded in making me feel the cruelties, the disappointments, confusion and painful loss that newly freed men and women bravely faced at the end of the war. The author’s prose is unadorned and taut, and it generates near unbearable tension as we travel into a world where freedom is filled with danger. And yes love and hope. I highly recommend Freeman most of all because it is a wonderful, moving story.
Profile Image for Andre.
542 reviews146 followers
May 30, 2012
If one has a grounding in African-American history, than much of this book will not be new or fresh ground. That is not to say a knowledge of African-American history is necessary to enjoy this novel, on the contrary. You will be educated and moved by the story of AAs struggling after emancipation. There are three concurrent journeys taking place in Freeman. Sam Freeman, Tilda and Prudence.

Through the story of these three, one really has to examine what is the right way to respond to sudden freedom. Or is there even a right way? How would you react to being "free" after being enslaved for so long? Well we are given these different perspectives while feeling as best we can, what it could have been like. I like the fact that some unknown history is being brought to life. The commitment to learning is a little known black history fact, but is made clear in this novel. The establishment of marriage bonds and love without "legal" sanction, and the seriousness of these connections is another reality lost to history. As Sam is asked along his trek, "'you need some white man with a Bible to tell you who your wife is?'"

The main character, Sam Freeman, sets out on a 1000 mile journey by foot to find his wife Tilda, the minute after the war is over. It has been fifteen years, but he still has a burning desire to reconnect with his wife. This was not an anomaly. History is replete with many wandering the south after emancipation attempting to reunite with family. That is a serious statement on love. Some of the situations in this novel are pulled directly from history. This lends realism to the book and helps move it to the greatness column.

Tilda is a character that will frustrate some, because of what we see as fear. The author does a great job of drawing her with a balance that makes the reader empathetic, even though she makes you wanna holler! Does she choose not to change her situation because of fear? Or is there something deeper?

Prudence is anything but prudent, and as such becomes the center of a firestorm. She is the feisty daughter of a northern abolitionist, who came late to that position. She is committed to helping the freedmen, as a duty to her late father.
The revelations for Prudence uncovered in her adventure, are a minor setback for her. She soldiers on in the face of information that some would find crushing.

I know I am being deliberately vague in describing events, because I want you all to buy this book, read and share it with others. There are some serious teachable moments that are historically accurate. This novel should certainly be added to the must read list concerning the emancipation time period.

There is much to be gleaned from this novel and will give one a greater sense of African-Americans and their commitment to this country, this is a great book!
Profile Image for Margitte.
1,177 reviews539 followers
August 26, 2016
It is the end of the American civil war and slavery had just been abolished. People were jubilantly dancing in the streets of America. An era came to an end.

Although it was one of the purposes of the war to establish freedom for everyone, nobody really seemed to grasp the real meaning of the concept. Those who finally gained their freedom were the least prepared for it. For most of them slavery was bad, but peace brought much worse consequences than ever envisioned. You could say the battle was won but the war was not over and some of the more optimistic celebrators did not know what was waiting on the other side. For those who never knew freedom, who were born in slavery, the thought of freedom was a highly unsettling and frightening idea. After all, people were still white, and other black. And the whites still regarded the black people as something similar to dogs or horses. Not human. No, not human at all.

"In physical deportment, intellectual capacity, and moral integrity, white men were set apart from all the other races of the world. That includes your red man, your yellow man, and most certainly, your black man.”

Bostonian Prudence Cafferty Kent's father warned her. “When this war is finished, when the Union is restored, this government will do nothing for the colored man. It will free him and then it will leave him to fend for himself in a hostile and resentful land. It will require people like us, people of means, to fill in the gaps.”

In memory of her late father, she decided to move down south and establish a school for the newly freed slave children in a building belonging to her father. She wanted to make a difference. She felt it was her calling. Her husband gave his life to make a difference as well. She had to carry on their visions and wishes. But Prudence was an inexperienced, and a simply stubborn, mulish, headstrong person who envisioned herself as the savior of many. A person who thought that her wishes would become everyone else's commands. What she found in the little town Buford, Mississippi, would not only drastically clear up her misconceptions about life, and destroy innocent people's lives, but will also make her realize how damaging her actions were for the inhabitants of Buford she tried to help.

We have lost our homes and other property. We have lost our dignity and pride. We have lost our way of life and we have lost our country. By the holy God, how much more can you Northern people expect us to lose? Would you have us surrender our sacred place in the very order of creation? We will not meekly accept that. We cannot, if we wish to still consider ourselves white men. You will not prop the Negro up as our social or political equal. We will resist that with every means at our disposal, Mrs. Kent. We will resist for a hundred years, and more.”

The intolerance, resentment, bitterness and rebellion in the different groups are pushed to the limits with her arrival and the choices she made.

Sam Freeman fled the south and landed up in Phillidelphia working as an assistant in a library when the good news arrived about the end of the war. He wanted to return to Buford to search for his wife Tilda, whom he left behind fifteen years earlier. It was a dangerous decision to make. He made an oath when he fled the bondage of Mrs. Louisa Prentiss down south, that he will return for his wife when he managed to establish a new life up north. He knew the time had come for him to go back to his roots in Mississippi. He walked a thousand miles and more, to honor the promise he made to himself.

Tilda had her own story to tell. It was a life of hardship and hell that did not end with the signing of the peace treaty, since her 'owner' refused to give up his 'property'. She had no desire or aspirations to leave her master. The unknown and the uncertainty of a free life convinced her to stay, be loyal and endure. The known was intolerable, but still better than the unknown.

Comments: Fastidious. Intense. Convincing. Excellent. What a stroke of luck it was to choose this book as my first read for 2014! I often read Leonard J. Pitt Jr's syndicated columns and had this book now for a few months stacked to be read. I love his writing style, so it was with excitement and joy that I opened this book last night and got going.

All I want to say is that it was an emotionally-charged, suspenseful read. The plot, the rawness of the events, the scenery and historical details in the book kept me reading from beginning to end without taking a break. I am not sure how well this book is received in the American psyche, but I do wish more people from all over the world can read it for the powerful message it contains about human dignity and respect and what people do to each other when one group, so often violently, is denying it to another.

There is such a wealth of pathos, character, and deeply moving moments in the book. There is the good the bad and the ugly. But mostly, there is an honesty of thought and intent rolled out in the rainbow of eloquent prose.

I recommend this book to EVERYONE!

Profile Image for Esther Bradley-detally.
Author 3 books41 followers
June 28, 2015
Freeman is a must read. It is one of the strongest books on painful lives, and given the pernicious and insidious racism that exists in the United States today, given groups that are working to eradicate such attitudes, (attitudes too light a world). This book is a must for people of white skin color; not to scold, or nag, but to get inside the screaming human condition that African-Americans have dealt with for infinitude.

I am solidly and insatiably a reader, and have read volumes of incredible literature on race conditions. Freeman pulls the reader inside the soul of the figures in the book. I am older, and white, but by the time I was over 50% through the book; I hated whites.

Hate is not the object, but I don't hate whites, what I hate are the thickened veils of denial, ignorance, lack of compassion, empathy, and justice. The time is now. The time was now then,yesterday and a 1,000 yesterdays, but you can guess what I'll say next: Read the book, weigh in on it.

Kudos to the author; it's a major triumph. With love to all of humanity. We are one. We need to have that concept permeate our very beings.
Profile Image for Stephanie Anze.
657 reviews114 followers
February 12, 2020
Upon learning of the Confederacy's surrender, Sam Freeman (an former slave) decides to leave his safe haven in Philadelphia and go find Tilda, his wife, in the war-torn south. Its been fifteen years since Sam last saw Tilda. He does not know wether she is wants to see him or even if she is still alive but he sets out on a 1000 mile journey on foot anyways. Meanwhile, Tilda, is being dragged by her former master to any place where he still is seen as a proud slaveowner. In Boston, Prudence Cafferty has lost her husband in the war and wants to honor the promise she made to her father. She goes to Buford, Mississippi to set up a school for the freedmen. As all these individuals go through trials and tribulations, they discover the true meaning of freedom.

I have had this book in my TBR pile for a while now. I am glad to have finally read it. Its a strong, powerful and poignant narrative set in the post-Civil war south. Sam (who has given himself the surname Freeman) is working in a library in Philadelphia. When news break out of the defeat of the Confederacy, Sam decides he will go look for his wife. The two became separated when their owner sold them (that was fifteen years ago). Sam escaped and found a safe haven but now he intends to leave it in search of the woman he loves. Tilda, on her end, is still with her former master that refuses to accept the loss of the south. Thus, he drags Tilda to where he can still be a proud Confederate and slaveowner. Prudence Cafferty (a white northern) is a widow, her husband fought for the Union and died for the cause. Her father was an abolitionist and Prudence promised him to help the freedmen when the war was over. Prudence leaves Boston for Mississippi and sets up a school for the freedman. She expects trouble but the tensions that her arrival and her school cause surpass her wildest expectations. As these three individuals forge on, their paths intersect and their lives are altered in unchangeable ways.

This novel deals with the end of the Civil War. Its set on the first few months after the Confederate surrender. Leonard Pitts Jr built an atmosphere that felt cold and hostile, raw, bloody and brutal just like it must have felt at the end of the war. The characters were nuanced and the tension palpable on the pages. The three POV's (Sam, Tilda and Prudence) had clear and distinct voices and contributed to creating a full picture of a war-torn scene. This is not an easy book to read. I would hardly describe it as enjoyable but I would definitely say it is an important read. I have to be frank and admit that I had not thought about the immediate aftermath of the end of the war and the end of slavery. That the war and slavery had ended did not mean that the deep-set racial perceptions stopped existing (I doubt they ever will). In some regards, the freed slaves faced more uncertain times as free men than as slaves. Yes they were no longer in bondage but they had no homes, did not know where their families where or if they were still alive, had no jobs & no recognizable forms of income and faced a growing resentment by the southern slaveowners that felt that their lifestyly had been attacked. It was still a long way to truly be free for them. In this aspect, Leonard Pitts Jr. truly shined as he painted a scene that was heartbreaking and tough but also hopeful and promising.

Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,114 followers
March 11, 2013
Publisher summary:
Freeman takes place in the first few months following the Confederate surrender and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Upon learning of Lee's surrender, Sam--a runaway slave who once worked for the Union Army--decides to leave his safe haven in Philadelphia and set out on foot to return to the war-torn South to find his wife, whom he has not seen in 15 years.

At the same time, a headstrong white woman of means misnamed Prudence leaves her Boston home for Buford, Mississippi, to start a school for the former bondsmen, and honor her father’s dying wish.

I had to zoom through this in a day to finish it in time for a book club discussion, but the author made it easy for me. The story moves quickly as it circles between the stories of Sam, Tilda, and Prudence.

Overall, I enjoyed it. The premise of someone walking over 1000 miles to find a long-last spouse is very romantic but also representative of the desperation many suddenly-former-slaves must have experienced - well, now what?! Of course your first thought would be for your family if it had previously been split apart when you had no power.

The author doesn't balk from discussing the tensions between Yankees and Southerners, former-slave-owners and former-slaves, etc., but my one complaint would be that overall every southern white person is portrayed as bad and every northern white person is portrayed as noble. I'm pretty sure there were just as many northerners fighting for personal interest, obligation, and the thrill of battle as those in the south. At the same time, this novel is not about the white people, for once. At least the communities of former slaves are not simplified or stereotyped. Maybe I'm balking then at an intentional flipping of which communities are usually generalized in Civil War novels. Well played, Mr. Pitts.

I suppose there isn't a way to write a historical novel without the perspective of what has happened since, but there were moments where it was too obviously in the author's mind. One Civil War veteran (also a plantation owner) gets angry at Prudence and says multiple times that the south will fight! 100 years if they must! It seemed like an obvious reference to the Civil Rights movement that would cause so much change in the south in the 1960s, approximately 100 years later than the war, but anyone living down here knows that wasn't the end of the conflict. There are still people in my town who sell racist propaganda and call it southern pride. I wish this felt like a completely historical novel. The power of the majority in a small town, the ways to take control outside of legal means, the methods that people can use to shut down dissent or change - these are all well and good, and Pitts does well in writing them into the novel, especially in the town of Buford, Mississippi.

I'd actually like a sequel novel that follows the group of people that dominate the end of this one. Perhaps that will be next.
Profile Image for Sarah Weathersby.
Author 6 books87 followers
September 9, 2012
I loved this book.

What do you do when you learn you are free for the first time in your life? The Civil War has ended and Leonard Pitts' cast of characters find themselves in different circumstances. For Sam it means leaving the safety of Philadelphia where he as lived several years as a Freeman, educated, and with a job, to set out for Mississippi to find his wife whom he hasn't seen in fifteen years.

For Ben it means finding his wife and daughter. Other nameless people wander through the story looking for a lost husband or child. Prudence, a wealthy white widow, sets off from Boston to build a school in Mississippi (of all places) for newly freed blacks.

I prepared myself for the blood and violence once Sam left Philadelphia. After having waded through Isabel Wilkerson's Warmth of Other Suns last year, when I had to close the book several times because the lynchings were non-fiction, and especially because it happened during my lifetime, maybe I was able to steel myself for Sam's journey through Mississippi.

Pitts' writing has an ease about it, beautifully simple. I counted dozens of different ways his characters smiled, until we reached the middle of the story where there was little to smile about.

I loved the characters so much, when I finished the book they were still on my mind and in my heart.
Profile Image for L.S. Childers.
Author 3 books13 followers
August 28, 2012
You know you become emotionally involved in a novel when a scene is so heartwrenching that you just have to close the book (or in my case, shut down my kindle), get yourself together, and pick it up a day later when you're ready to continue. I had a few of those moments while reading Freeman. The Reconstruction era in America was not the happy ending that many would have liked it to be (and I'm sure many former slaves never expected would happen anyway) and it is described in vivid detail in this novel. The story follows the three tales of Sam (a former slave who escaped to Philadelphia but heads South after the war to find the wife he left behind), Tilda (a "free" woman who is still in bondage to a former slave master who will NOT let her go), and Prudence (the daughter of abolitionists who decides to head South to start a freeman's school). Their stories weave back and forth and we follow them through their journeys of gradual disillusionment and eventually acceptance and renewal. I thought the story was very well executed though a little less literary than I had expected. I gave it a 4 (though i would rather give it a 4 1/2) because the story sometimes devolved into a bit of a soap opera but overall I would definitely recommend this book as a great, powerful read.
654 reviews49 followers
June 3, 2013
This is the longest book I have ever read. Well, not really, but it certainly felt like the longest book I have ever read. There are a lot of slave narratives out there with characters that pop out of the page, and the story is told so masterfully that the true horrors of slavery haunt the reader all the way down to their bones. This is not one of those books. In Freeman adorable children and one of the main characters die horribly, and this is only after one of the other protagonists loses his arm. There is rape, torture, and lynching. But I never cried, and I'm a book crier. Pitts' pacing was so slow that I had a hard time getting drawn in, and therefore the emotional connections I was a supposed to make just never happened. There is an editor somewhere who simply did not do his job. This book should have been half of its 432 pages. But I had to finish this for a book club at work, so I did. That is the only reason I got through it.

However, the book was... sort of lovely. Not really, but kind of. There was a small amount of loveliness. That is all.
Profile Image for Kameel.
862 reviews121 followers
March 14, 2021
This story had so much going on....and Sam went through too much in the 16 hours that I spent listening to this audiobook not to get his HEA....*SpoilerAlert* Sorry, Not Sorry...the end was extremely disappointing! In fact, there was a lot in this book that was just SAD! We already are aware that post civil war and after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln had to be an intense time. ....This book managed to hit all of them....There was hardly any character in this book to experience some peace and joy....not my type of story.....I live in a real world, I love experiencing Happy fiction when reading and watching movies. Great Narration with Sean Crisden!
Profile Image for Monique.
1,016 reviews60 followers
January 20, 2015
So glad I decided to read this book after seeing it on display for Black History month and I feel enlightened, empowered and saddened after reading which is definitely the mark of a great book as I know it will stick with me forever..This is at the heart an agonizing love story for the ages of the depth of love and the real meaning of Corinithians verse that speaks of Love never failing,I gained such an appreciation for what it means to lose someone you love and what you would do to get them back..This book teaches you so much about patience, endurance, humility, freedom, the real effects on the mentality and growth of a slave and of course love--the book encompasses the stories of some truly unforgettable people: Sam, Prudence and Tilda and how their lives, after the violent Civil war are changed..Sam, a runaway slave who after fighting with the Union decides to walk from Philadelphia to Mississippi, some 1000 miles to find his wife who he hasnt seen in 15 years even though in his heart he is unsure if she will even see him because of the tragedy that befell their son that he feels the immense guilt for..Along his travels he meets people that will forever change his life like the surpisingly insightful Ben and endures and witnesses the aftereffects of the beaten and confused ignorant Southern whites you grow with him and like him come away changed..There is Prudence, a headstrong determined white woman who out of sense of obligation and sense of duty to her father and her country takes her best friend and surrogate sister a free colored woman to Mississippi and starts a school for free colored and learns more about herself than she ever thought possible, I did admire her fire though as even through adversity and extreme tragedy she stood strong despite her emotions and obstacles I did learn to respect her and the portrayal of Northern whites in the novel..And lastly there is the story of Tilda, the wife Sam is searching for, the woman who spurns his tired feet on for miles and miles of oppression with a heartbreaking story of her own as in her voice you truly feel the desperation and debilitating powers of slavey. In her tale you learn how the spirit of a person can be stomped out of a person like a candle and why it is so precious to always dream and strive for more..These stories all come together for a story worth reading and worth savoring, this is a rich novel that makes you think, the writing was engaging and I adored the way things like the big Buford plot are held until the end to really keep you enthralled..I recommend this book to everyone as an eye-opener and a tear jerker where you will find the meaning of love, hope and a new appreciation for the lives our ancestors endured so we can have the freedom we enjoy everyday.Powerful reading, epic and timeless..
Profile Image for Kelsey Burnette.
545 reviews8 followers
January 6, 2013
If you do nothing else this year, you must read this book. Should be required reading for all Americans, especially those who continue to insist that the Civil War was about "states' rights" not slavery. As my husband always responds, "Yeah, states' rights to own slaves." Pitts does an exceptional job of recreating the "end" of the Civil War, making it so clear that the war was far from won and that the battle against those who have the belief in white superiority and a natural, God-given world order in which white men are at the top continues today.

The power of this book is in the depth of each character he creates. He uses them to illustrate the variety of views and mind sets and approaches, but never did a character become just a representation. Rather, each was fully formed, deeply understood as an individual. From the heroic Sam Freeman, to the wretched Jim McFarland, from the idealistic Prudence Kent, to the wise Miss Ginny. And so many others. The story is epic, as Sam sets out on his journey to find his wife, Tilda; and sisters Prudence and Bonnie set out on their quest to set up a school for the former slaves in Buford, Mississippi. There is so much horror and heart-break, but ultimately, this book is about hope and the power of love.

The writing is absolutely beautiful. I thought this passage really captured the spirit of this novel:

"'You think they ever gon' let us be free men, Sam? I mean really free?' 'I do not know,' said Sam. 'It seems unlikely, does it not?'...'You might maybe want to change your name, then. Maybe you should be 'Most-Freeman. Someday-Freeman.'...'No,' he said, 'I think I will stay with Freeman. At the very least, it will give them notice of my intention.'"

I loved this also: "Tilda stripped gratefully out of the filthy dress that was the only thing she had worn, day and night, for five months. It fell from her in a heap, like a blood-caked, sweat-stained, mud-spattered old skin. Her body itself felt not much cleaner, felt as if it were crusted with all that had happened to her, all the agony she had seen and felt, all the terrible things that had been done to her and that she had done, the life she had endured...she stepped carefully into the steaming water, lowered herself slowly. It was like walking into the embrace of God."

Read this beautiful, powerful, thought-provoking, compelling novel.
Profile Image for Marlene.
2,947 reviews205 followers
January 29, 2013
Originally published at Reading Reality

I bought this book from Amazon because I read Leonard Pitts' columns religiously. On a so-called average day, he's always good. On his best days, and he has quite a lot of them, he knocks it out of the park. Unfortunately, all too many of his best writing has been brought on by the most painful events in this country's recent history, such as the massacre at Newtown.

I wanted to see what he'd do with a novel.

Some things are the same. Freeman is also about a painful event in American history. It just isn't recent. And yet it is. The end of the Civil War occured almost a century and a half ago. But its causes and effects are still being felt today.

Every character in this story is on a journey. On the obvious level, Sam is walking across over a thousand miles of the war-torn South, searching for Tilda, the wife he was forced to leave behind in slavery. At the simplest level, he's hoping for forgiveness for taking their son Luke on his first run for freedom--the one that got Luke killed. At the time, Sam blamed himself. So did Tilda.

Only freedom can allow either of them the luxury of blaming slavery instead of each other.

Prudence's journey is the kind where all of a person's illusions get stripped away, and all they are left with is their core. The question is whether that core turns out to be something that can hold them up, or one that melts away when there is nothing left to prop it up. Prudence comes to Buford full of self-righteousness. Not in a bad way, her intentions to set up a school for freedmen really are good. But her wilfull blindness to the world around her causes a lot of damage, especially to those closest to her.

It's only when people start dying that she finally understands that just because she is right, it doesn't mean that the world will bend to her will. Moral suasion only worked for her in Boston because she had earthly power to back it up.

All their journeys intersect. The story you're reading is three people coming to terms with their own pasts, and the present that it has led them to.

Sam finds freedom through Tilda's forgiveness. Tilda finds freedom by accepting that the past is the past and that life moves forward. And the former slaves of Buford Mississippi re-enact the Exodus from Egypt, with Prudence playing the part of Moses. Or maybe that was Sam.

Escape Rating A: I stayed up late on a "school night" to finish this, I got so wrapped up in it. The author makes you feel like you've walked every mile, and all of them hurt, not just your feet, but also your heart.

The part that stings the most, and feels the most real, is how blind both Sam and Prudence are regarding the recalcitrance of the losing Southerners to accept that the war is over and that they lost and need to change their "way of life". Attitudes do not change at the stroke of a pen. We see that today with each fight against discrimination. Humans don't like change, and don't like to give up privilege. This doesn't mean that things shouldn't change, but that conflict over change is unfortunately part of the process. Sometimes that conflict is very, very ugly.

This story, however, is very, very awesome.
Profile Image for Libby.
594 reviews156 followers
February 9, 2015
Leonard Pitts, Jr., is a 2004 Pulitzer Prize winner for commentary and a widely read columnist for the Miami Herald. A jewel of a novel, in 'Freeman,' Pitts engages the reader through the POV of several characters. Sam Freeman, who may be considered the main protagonist, is our opening character and we learn that as a slave he was traded from owner to owner and had different names along the way. Freeman is the name he calls himself. Sam is the name his wife and lover called him. He called her Tilda, and Sam hasn't seen Tilda in 15 years. Sam leaves his home in the North to travel back to Mississipppi to find Tilda. It is a journey of hardship and discovery. Prudence Cafferty Kent, the second protagonist, has been made a widow by the Civil War. Her husband Jamie is killed at Gettysburg. Inspired by her abolitionist father, Prudence is going to Mississippi, with her adopted sister Bonnie, to set up a school for the newly freed black children. Bonnie is a young African American woman, with whom Prudence shares an even closer relationship than her biological sisters. Bonnie is the voice of caution, and at times the voice of necessity and reality. Prudence is imprudent and inpulsive. In her idealism, she is grounded in reality as she wishes it to be, not reality as it is. Occasionally the reader sees the world through Bonnie's POV, not as often as Prudence's POV, but it certainly sets up a nicely textured contrast for the reader. It's easy to see the love the two women have for each other as sisters. Through subtle shadings and finely graded nuances, the reader learns why Bonnie is the voice of caution and why Prudence is impulsive. The third main character is Tilda, Sam's wife, left back in Mississippi to deal with the very harsh reality of the world of slavery. Sam's adventures along his journey are mind and soul shattering, as well as physically devastating. Pitts characters are believable. Prominent themes are freedom, what it means to have it, and what it means to not have it; identity, especially with Sam and Prudence's characters; truth and how it can be manipulated to serve prejudices; loyality, friendship, and the duties and responsibilities of love. I love how the narrative takes us into the world of the different characters. Pitts draws even his secondary characters with the most exquisite detail squeezing the juice of their lifes onto the page, creating art out of the most mundane and everyday encounters. There are villains in this book, and they are most definitely bad. But they are shaded and we sometimes see glimmers of their humanity, enough to know that culture and societal expectations may take the humanity of many and turn it into something evil and cruel. The story of slavery.....is more real than real, and that's how these characters feel. They take life and breathe, and show us what life was like after the Civil War. It's the remembering of our lack of humanity, and then remembering again that which was lost, and remembering the cost of that loss.
Profile Image for BookishGlow.
167 reviews38 followers
January 20, 2013
Love never fails. - 1 Corinthians 13:8

I hate love stories. I loathe the unrealistic betrayal of a fantasy type whimsical tale of the perfect love affair, that results in the standard “happily ever after” conclusion. I was hesitant to read this book as a result of the implications of a love story included within the description of the novel, but decided to purchase it due to the inclusion of the historical accounts of the post antebellum era in America, which I enjoy reading. Boy was I wrong. This book is astounding.

Author Leonard Pitts, Jr. is no stranger to the literary community, for he is an award winning journalist, a Pulitzer Prize winner, and a bestselling author. His literary talents seem to effortlessly shine throughout the novel, as he writes an intriguing tale of unconditional love, senseless brutality, and arduous forgiveness. His lyrical prose is masterful as he introduces readers to unforgettable characters who provide a sense of genuine humanity, as they are flawed individuals seeking understanding in a country baffled by the end of a Civil War, as well as the sudden shift of a nation by the abrupt assignation of a President.

Freeman is an intriguing story that will have the reader yearning for more after each turn of the page. The novel will elicit many emotions, as you journey through a period of tumultuous months of exploit with main character Sam Freeman, as he voyages to find his wife after 15 years of separation in slavery. Consequently, I highly recommend this book to those who appreciate a riveting, well- written novel.
Profile Image for Geanina.
12 reviews1 follower
October 31, 2012
Leonard Pitts creates an amazing journey of three souls in the post-Civil War south. This is the heartbreaking story of what happens shortly after the emancipation of the slaves in 1865. Sam, a runaway slave travels 1000 miles looking for the woman he left behind when he escaped. Prudence (ironically named due to her rash decisions and explosive temper), travels south to open a school for the newly freed colored with her a colored girl that was raised as her sister. Tilda, Sam's forlorn wife, struggles with the decision to break from the mental shackles slavery has chained her with in order for her to claim her freedom. The novel is told in three strands that ultimately converge when the three find their destinies irrevocably intertwined.
Profile Image for Sandra.
626 reviews12 followers
February 1, 2013
Well-written historical fiction in the period right after the abolishment of slavery and the assassination of President Lincoln. Very hard to read at times for its graphic depiction of man's inhumanity to man, but I persevered -- glad I did. The characters of Ben and Prudence, and others, were not stereotypical in any fashion. Pitts did use some stereotypical characters I believe for economy of language. There were many strong characters and Sam's journey provided a great setting. The title says it all -- Freeman -- we have to embrace the word to make it real. Great story!
137 reviews4 followers
September 23, 2012
Excellent. Gripping. Heart-wrenching. Will leave you with thoughts of this time in our nation's history long after the final page is turned.

Profile Image for Laura Hoffman Brauman.
2,595 reviews36 followers
March 3, 2023
Following the end of the Civil War, Sam Freeman, a free Black man living in Philadelphia returns on foot to the south to attempt to find his wife, Tilda, who he was separated from when he was sold. His search is harrowing and highlights the many challenges and hatred in the south following the war’s end. Generals can sign articles of surrender, but that’s a lot different than changing the hearts and minds of those who had been willing to fight and die. One of the many things that I think Pitts did well in here was to get inside the minds of the everyday white person in the South following the war. There is a side plot line here of Prudence, a white woman who moves to the south to open a school for the former enslaved. Prudence’s storyline ends up intersecting with Sam and his search, but I think the most powerful part of Prudence’s story is her growing awareness, sometimes at great cost of her own assumptions and biases. While this was heartbreaking in a lot of ways, it is also powerful with some elements of redemption. (I would love another novel about what happens next). And truly, this had one of the most moving ties to the love chapter in the Bible - 1st Corinthians, Chapter 13. I hear it quoted at almost every wedding I attend — it’s never rang with power for me the way it did in this novel.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
464 reviews604 followers
December 11, 2014
Harrowing and beautifully written--one of those books where you know you're hearing from a writer who not only has a vast vocabulary, but knows how to arrange it decoratively on a page.

Sam is a slave who falls in love and marries another slave: Tilda. Their slave master teaches Tilda to read, Tilda teaches Sam, and this popular Bible verse becomes their couple 'thing': "Love is long suffering; it aboundeth in kindness." The verse sort of explains most of the book actually. But when Sam tries to run away, he is brought back by slave catchers and his master sells him; causing him to become separated from Tilda for over fifteen years.

The book starts after the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln orders slaves to be set free, southern slave owners and rebel fighters start insurgencies in the south, President Lincoln is shot. In the midst of it all, Sam leaves the north and heads south to look for Tilda. It is the love story that captures me in the beginning. This and the entertaining and smart-alecky character Sam, who doesn't like being called the n-word, so he chooses to go around talking like this: "You asked who I was sir, you asked my cognomen. You asked my appellation."

What Pitts does so well with this novel is conceptualize life immediately following slavery and how it was for free men (and women)--particularly in Buford, Mississippi. He wrote that Litwack's Pulitzer prize-winning book on the aftermath of slavery, "Been in the storm so long," which was filled with slave accounts, was an inspiration for him. So many underlying themes here, much comparisons between the north and south, etc.

Like this example when a southern slave owner who does not want to see his former slaves educated, addresses the northerner and abolitionist who tries to help them: "But what will happen to us? It was a strangely plaintive cry, the bawling of an abandoned child. You know very well, these people are our labor force. If you take them away, you cripple our tradesmen and shopkeepers! And what of our planters? It's almost time for the harvest! Who will work our fields? Don't you see? You will wreck our town!"

The best part is the strategic use of characters (not just main characters) to show different viewpoints: slaves, slave owners, "Yankees," abolitionists, southerners, men, women. Three main characters. Believable characters. Rich dialogue: Sam was my favorite; Prudence I struggled with a bit, wondering throughout the book if she really thought of Bonnie as a sister (because why would she drag her black sister to the south at that particular time?), but came to like her a little at the end; Tilda I couldn't get because I didn't get to know her before she was broken, so I saw her through Sam's eyes. I wanted more of Bonnie though, I should say.

Halfway through the book though, Pitts switched to omniscient narrator in the middle of Prudence's narration, when he talks about Bo and Georgie. I was blind-sided. Read again. Still confused. What happened there? That was the only part of the book like that and I felt like I was reading a book that had been changed but someone missed the memo on a few pages.

Also, a scene with Prudence seemed rushed. Forced. (Not saying what because I won't spoil it). Should you read it, you'll see what I mean. The characters' descriptions and the setup, just doesn't explain this scene. Somewhere within such a book, the author must find a way to show commonality between characters. But that scene wasn't it.

Profile Image for Donna.
591 reviews
May 22, 2012
Freeman is a superb novel of post-Civil War. There are many wonderful and unforgettable characters in the book. It is truly a splendid read.

Sam Freeman, a runaway slave who once fought in the union army has decided to leave his safety in Philadelphia and head out on foot towards the war torn South in search of his wife, Tilda. Sam and his son, Luke, had left Tilda behind some 15 years ago to charge towards freedom. Not getting very far, Sam and Luke were captured; only to have Luke try to run off and being shot by the slave captors. Sam was taken back to his mistress and beaten. Tilda never forgave him for the death of their son. Therefore, Sam leaves again leaving Tilda behind. Tilda is sold to another master, Jim McFarland, who is not so nice an owner of slaves. McFarland doesn't believe that the slaves were freed when the South lost the war. He does as much to keep them, but most run off. He does capture some and shoots them for leaving. Tilda remains. Now Tilda is being forced by McFarland to walk with her owner from Mississippi to Arkansas in search of some place that will respect him as a slaveowner and Confederate officer.

In Buford, Tennessee, Prudence Kent arrives from her home in Boston along with her friend, Bonnie, to start a school for the negro children and adults. Her father had left some land and a warehouse in Buford and Prudence had decided that this is what she needed to accomplish to fulfill her father's dying wish. At first she was greeted by the negro people in Buford with welcome arms to teach their children. They were hungry for education. But, not everyone was so inclined to welcome her there to set about doing what she was doing. The white people in the town couldn't believe that a white woman wanted to help all these black people. They were needed for the work around the town and they knew their place.

Many conflicts and much anguish later left the school closed and many people, mostly the negroes, dead and wounded, one of them was her friend Bonnie. This is not what Prudence expected. She didn't expect to meet Sam Freeman in this town either. But Sam turned up unexpectedly after being nearly beaten to death and was in the capable hands of Prudence and her friend to help him heal.

Sam recuperates and decides to continue his search for Tilda. Prudence has decided to sell the warehouse and land and leave Buford. But to what expense will it cost the negroes of Buford? How does Prudence fix things for them? Does Sam find Tilda and will she take him back once he does find her?

This book is a very good read and I highly recommend it to all the readers out there. You will not regret reading this wonderful novel by Mr. Pitts.

I had won this book through the Goodreads First Reads giveaway and am very glad that I was chosen. It is now one of my favorite books.
Profile Image for Lisa.
Author 1 book59 followers
August 12, 2016
There's a plethora of novels that take place during the Civil War but there are few that take place right after it ended. For that reason, I'm glad that I read "Freeman" by Leonard Pitts, Jr. His column in the Miami Herald is syndicated in many newspapers including The Chicago Tribune so I am familiar with his perceptive, articulate writing. When I saw his book, I was eager to read it.

The story begins the day after the Civil War ends. Sam, a free man living in Philadelphia, hasn't seen his wife in 15 years. When the War ends, he embarks on a treacherous journey back to Mississippi to find his Tilda. He knows that in 15 years much can change. He doesn't know if she's dead or alive but he feels compelled to search for her.

Prudence Cafferty Kent, a wealthy Boston heiress and widow of a fallen Union soldier, feels duty bound to honor her deceased father's wishes by going to Mississippi to open a school for the newly freed slaves. Although the odds of this mission being successful are extremely low, her own devotion to justice and her own stubbornness won't allow her to do otherwise.

Tilda, Sam's wife, has been sold to a low class never do well of the worst sort who refuses to believe that the Civil War is over and runs after his former slaves if they try to leave his pathetic farm. After all the years of torture, Tilda has no hope left inside her. If Sam finds her, will she be capable of accepting his love?

The story goes back and forth among these characters and eventually their lives intersect. During this odyssey, I learned much about what it means to suddenly be free when one has lost everything - family, hope, dignity, and everyday choices.

Many of the issues posed in Freeman continue into this day. I will keep that in mind as I go forward in today's world. This book is definitely compelling with full characters and tension spilling out on every page. I consider it a must read.
Profile Image for Roy.
Author 5 books252 followers
August 11, 2016
FREEMAN is a fantastic book. Readers will highly empathize with the well developed characters. History buffs fascinated by the Civil War time period will be enthralled. Those who take great interest in this nation's troublesome history of race relations will be deeply drawn in, and on numerous occasions will shake their head at the realization that centuries old truths stubbornly remain valid to this day. Those in eternal search for bittersweet love stories should immediately add Freeman to their reading list. The only bone I had to pick with it is that in order for certain events to go the way the author intended them to, there were a couple instances of characters leaving incriminating evidence lying conveniently around, allowing for trails that otherwise would have gone cold to remain hot. I temporarily felt the presence of Leonard Pitts Jr. directing the narrative when this happened. "No way she doesn't toss that newspaper in the fire immediately" I may have said aloud at one point near the end of this riveting story. This is probably the only thing keeping me from going with a 5-star review, but please don't let it prevent you from following up on my recommendation to read this wonderful novel. From its first sentence to the last, it packs a powerful emotional punch. Bravo to a job well done.
Profile Image for Minnie.
Author 6 books19 followers
September 10, 2012
Freeman by Leonard Pitts

Merged review:

Leonard Pitts Jr. used wonderful insight telling the story in the novel, “Freeman."

The war between the Union and Confederacy is over, but hate rages like wild fires burning Buford, Mississippi at its roots.

Now free after fighting in the war, Sam Freeman, the protagonist, is obsessed with the need to find his wife, Tilda. He has not seen her for 15 years and strikes out on a journey to find her. His love and search for Tilda is one of the driving forces in the novel; the love, determination, and unity among slaves are equally powerful.

Pitts Jr.’s story structure is methodical and well balanced. It captured my emotions as an African American female. No doubt, “Freeman,” is a literary classic worthy to stand on bookshelves next to “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass,” by Frederick Douglass.

Minnie E Miller
Author of “The Seduction of Mr. Bradley”
and “Whispers from the Mirror”

Minnie Estelle Miller
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