The Fascinating Story Behind Sadeqa Johnson's 'Yellow Wife'

Yellow Wife is based on the true story of Robert Lumpkin, a notorious jailer who owned a holding pen and “breaking” center for more than 300,000 enslaved people from 1844 – 1865. Lumpkin was so well known for his cruelty that the jail was known as the “Devil's Half Acre,” and he “the Bully Trader.” In his work, he came to meet and marry his own yellow wife, a mixed-race slave-woman named Mary who bore him five children.

Sadeqa Johnson writes, “After stumbling upon this story I could not stop thinking about Mary. What was life like for her and her children? How did she live on the Half Acre, both witnessing and assisting in the business that profited from fellow enslaved people? Did she love him?”

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