CASSANDRA FAY SMITH spent more than fifteen years researching and preparing this book and two companion volumes.  She read and transcribed over 2,000 slave interviews, narratives and memoirs; located more than 1,500 photos of slaves, free blacks, and letters, military records and documents, much of it unpublished.  She created a sprawling “Russian novel” that narrates the five years of the American Civil War with hundreds of first hand accounts and photographs of African Americans, free and slave.

She self financed the research, organization and design of these books.  This book is the cumulation of a lifetime of research, study and the development of a narrative format that is both scholarly, exciting and easy to consume.   


She has a display case in the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C. filled with artifacts she uncovered, purchased and donated.

Smith is the daughter of two motherless parents both born in Detroit and cut off from their Southern roots.  In 1964, a social studies teacher at Post Junior High School asked permission to start a Negro History Club.  It was controversial request.  The World History textbook threw Africa into a chapter with Australia, Antartica and other miscellaneous land masses.  The American History textbook included slavery only as the cause of the Civil War.  People of African descent were insignificant and invisible but the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing and she watched it on a tiny black and white TV screen in a large oak cabinet.  Earlier that year Martin Luther King led a march and spoke in Detroit. Within a month President Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  The times they were a-changin’ but still, the Detroit News spelled negro with a small letter “n” and our mothers fought to be addressed with Mrs. in front of their names.

The new wing of the main library and the Negro History Club became her refuge and obsession.  By high school it was called the Black History Club and in college she did her “junior year abroad” not in France but at Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee Alabama, founded by Booker T. Washington.  This was the single most important year in her life.   After graduating from the University of Michigan in Roman history she went to Howard University in Washington, D.C. the first historically black college founded in 1867.

She received a six year Ford Foundation fellowship granted to Howard University to train a phalange of Black scholars in United States history.  Her concentration was comparative slavery with a minor in Latin American and the Caribbean. While working on her Ph.D she taught at Howard University and worked for the Smithsonian Institution, The National Archives, The National Park Service and Colonial Williamsburg.   Although trained to become a scholar her passion was presenting history to the general public.

She has a M.B.A. from the University of Southern California and was hired and trained by Coca-Cola.   She spent ten years as a Product/profit Manager in new products for Johnson Products and Helene Curtis.  She taught at the Kellogg School of Business, Northwestern University.  She has an M.A in Creative Writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Cassandra Fay Smith builds award winning miniature slave cabin dollhouses and dolls based on research and archeology and has been featured on ABC, CBS, NBC and WGN TV news, the cover of Doll House Miniatures and in many books, magazines, newspapers, museums and galleries, including The Museum of Science and Industry, (Chicago) DuSable Museum, South Shore Cultural Center and  Nicole Gallery in Chicago and Western Michigan University. Her current project is the construction of twenty miniature structures and scenes to present the Interstate Slave Trade including auction houses, taverns,  slave cabins combined with stories, maps and documents of the trade.

Her literary fiction has been published in many journals including Triquarterly; New Writers and National Public Radio, (This American Life and Chicago Matters ) While at Howard University she published scholarly articles and co-authored a book.  A Special Mission: the Story of Freedmen's Hospital, 1862-1962. with Dr. Thomas Holt and Dr. Rosalyn Terborg-Penn.

She received several fellowships from Ragdale Foundation, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, The McNamara Foundation and the American Antiquarian Society.