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The Rise of an Elite Black Family in the Segregated South

(William Morrow, 2001)


   With the panoramic story of one “colored elite” family who rise from the ashes of the Civil War to create an American cultural dynasty, Edward Ball offers the historical and literary successor to his highly acclaimed Slaves in the Family, a New York Times bestseller and winner of the National Book Award.

     The Sweet Hell Inside recounts the lives of the Harleston family of South Carolina, the progeny of a Southern gentleman and his slave, who cast off their blemished roots and achieved affluence in part through a surprisingly successful funeral parlor business. Their wealth afforded the Harlestons the comfort of chauffeurs, tailored clothes, and servants whose skin was darker than theirs. It also launched the family into a generation of glory as painters, performers and photographers in the “high yellow” society of America’s colored upper class. The Harlestons’ remarkable hundred-year journey spans from the waning days of Reconstruction, to the precious art world of the early 1900s, down the back alleys of the Jazz Age, to the dangers of the dawning civil rights movement. 

     The Sweet Hell Inside features a portrait artist who subjects included industrialist Pierre DuPont; a black classical composer in the Lost Generation of 1920s Paris; an orphanage founder who created a famous brass band from the ranks of his abandoned waifs;; and a Harleston mistress who doubled as an abortionist. It is a cast of characters rarely seen—cultured, vain, imperfect, rich, and black. It is a family made up of eccentrics who defied social convention, yet one whose advantages could not protect them from segregation’s locked doors, a plague of early death, and the stigma of children born outside marriage. 

     The Sweet Hell Inside raises the curtain on a unique family drama in the pageant of American life and uncovers a fascinating lost world.


The Sweet Hell Inside
The Sweet Hell Inside

“A fascinating tale…masterful in the telling.” 

   —Washington Post


“Reveals a rich and neglected world… fascinating. Ball makes a significant contribution to a growing body of literature that seeks to rewrite American history with the honesty that should have been at its core all along.”

    —New York Times Book    


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