Rooted Recommends: Carved in Ebony by Jasmine Holmes

Jasmine Holmes’ new book, Carved in Ebony: Lessons From the Black Women Who Shape Us is just the kind of book a parent could read alongside a teenager to spark important discussions. As a Christian, an historian, and a lover of story, Holmes went in search of Black women whose work has left a lasting impact on this nation and on the family of God. One reviewer on GoodReads calls it a “historio-memoir,” defined as a book that “considers how studying history influenced the memoirist.” While that description is certainly apt for this book, Carved in Ebony accomplishes so much more. Holmes shares her excitement upon discovering the ten remarkable women she introduces us to, but even more, she urges us to look past her story, even past these women, to the God who made them in his image and allowed their lives to magnify his glory.

“What if,” she wonders, “instead of putting Uncle Sam in a cape and putting Lady Liberty on a pedestal, we told the story of America as the story of God’s faithfulness – and not our own?” (p.15)

The ten Black women portrayed here are probably unfamiliar to most Americans. With a couple of exceptions, their names and work have not entered history textbooks, or even popular church history. Each woman brilliant in her own God-ordained way, they shared a deep love for God and a passionate desire to see his people flourish. Missionaries, writers, educators, orators, and above all, advocates for women, children, the oppressed, and the unsaved, these are women whose names we should know.

Some of the women you will meet:

Elizabeth Freeman, a “magnificent citizen” (31) who never learned to read or write, was the first Black woman to sue successfully for her freedom in 1781.

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper published fiction and volumes of poetry, but it was her skill as an orator on the anti-slavery circuit that “mesmerized audiences from Mississippi to Maine” (69).

Amanda Berry Smith was a renowned evangelist who often preached to white audience, even when confronted with racism: “I do love white folks, whether they love me or not, and I want them all to be saved” (86).

Maria Fearing defied the odds to serve as a missionary in the Congo, in spite of being born into slavery in Alabama in 1838.

Sarah Mapps Douglass, a brilliant scholar and educator, bravely challenged Quakers for not doing enough to integrate their Black brothers and sisters into their congregations.

Holmes reads history as the ongoing story of God’s goodness to a people destined for his glory. Her approach fills her reader with praise and hope. Especially given our nation’s cultural moment, when hope for healing can feel like a pipe dream, she shows us women who knew their worth in Christ. They overcame enormous odds to fight for the worth and thriving of all other image bearers. God worked miracles through them because they were willing to be brave and trust him. Their stories are profound and inspiring for every American and every child of God.

Through reading Carved in Ebony, you will see that Jasmine Holmes is herself joining these women in their passionate work. As in her first book, Mother to Son, Holmes’ voice is potent, honest, at times full of pain but always enraptured with her God. How fitting that she was an eager student who became a dedicated teacher and mother; this is the pattern of her life, and she has much to teach us.

Writing of Sara Griffith Stanley (whom I suspect is Holmes’ favorite), she says, “She died in obscurity. But she did not die without a legacy. Even my telling of her story on these pages is part of her story—your reading her story is part of that legacy. The lives of all the educated Black women who came after her are part of her legacy. Even mine.”

And all of ours. Freeman, Stanley, Smith, Fearing, Douglass – they left every child of God a legacy of advocacy born of love and justice. As members of that great cloud of witnesses (Heb 12:1), they challenge us still. I am thankful for Jasmine Holmes’ work in magnifying their voices, and in magnifying the God who makes us family.

Anna is a single mom of three young adult sons. She is the Senior Director of Content at Rooted, co-host of the Rooted Parent podcast, a member of Church of the Cross in Birmingham, AL, and the author of God's Grace for Every Family: Biblical Encouragement for Single Parent Families and the Churches That Seek to Love Them Well (Zondervan, 2024). She also wrote Fresh Faith: Topical Devotions and Scripture-Based Prayers for College Students. In her free time, Anna enjoys gardening, great books, running, hiking, hammocks, and ice cream. She wants to live by a mountain stream in Idaho someday.

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