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Book Review: How the "Devil's Half Acre" was transformed into "God's Half Acre"

Yellow Wife: A Novel

by Sadeqa Johnson

Simon & Schuster (January 12, 2021)

In August, we shared Marsha’s review of The Devil’s Half-Acre, the historical account of Mary Lumpkin, who was born enslaved in 1832, was forced to be the "wife" of a brutal Richmond slave trader, and went on to liberate a slave jail and transform it into one of our country’s first HBCUs. This month, Marsha reviews Yellow Wife, a fictional account of Mary Lumpkin's life.

The fictional story of the jailer’s wife is written in first person so that the author can include her actions, thoughts and feelings. The wife in the novel is named Pheby Delores Brown instead of Mary Lumpkin. Lumpkin's Jail is renamed Lapier Jail, and the jailer, Rubin Lapier.

Author Sadeqa Johnson started the book after a walk on the Richmond Slave Trail, which includes the Lumpkin Jail. She researched local and regional history, including books written by those emancipated from slavery.

The novel incorporates real events and people, revolving in part around a famous captured enslaved man who had escaped to Boston and was brought back to the jail. The story adds a romance between the man and Pheby from before she was sold to the jailer.

Both The Devil’s Half-Acre and Yellow Wife present the story of a strong woman and her family, and how she struggled and worked to give her children a better life than she had. Although in different ways, in each book, through education and their mother’s protection and fortitude, the children do go on to new and better lives in the north.

--Marsha White Melkonian

Marsha would love to talk books with anyone who wants to share what they've read lately. "It's not like we all have to read the same book at the same time," she says. "And maybe just an 'email meeting', since everyone is so busy." Marsha would suggest a Facebook group, but she's aware not everyone is on Facebook. If you have ideas about/interest in a Fauquier NAACP book club, please reach out to us at:


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