"We have a country with a tragic history that is as powerful as its heroic history. We have to incorporate those realities in our understanding of who we are... there's a missing part of the national story that has to be told."
What motivates an author to spend years poring over centuries-old documents in musty libraries —to say nothing of putting himself in the uncomfortable position of soliciting stories from the descendants of people his ancestors enslaved? The search has, after all, revealed some ugly truths about the family history. Ball sees his effort as a way of reckoning with his heritage — of "reinterpreting it in a way... that makes sense to me and to present-day politics and reality." Having performed what amounts to a "psychoanalysis" of his family legacy, he says that "I don't feel as secretive about it, I don't feel as neurotic about it, I don't feel as defensive about it, and I feel as though I've made something of it that is different." Perhaps more important to Ball than grappling with his inheritance is explaining it to others. Though neither he nor any of his living relatives can be held directly responsible for the evils of slavery, he does feel somehow "accountable" for it: "obliged to reckon with it and talk about it honestly." Despite the heroic impressions we may have of American history, Ball says that "what we really have is a country with a tragic history that is as powerful as its heroic history. We have to incorporate those realities in our understanding of who we are... That's one reason why a book such as this gets so much attention... people see that there's a missing part of the national story that has to be told."