Shadows on Society Hill

Published in 2007; author Evelyn Coleman; illustrators Susan McAliley and Jean-Paul Tibbles


The book wastes no time getting into the action: on the first page, Addy shoves a man out of the path of a galloping horse, saving him from injury. He offers her ten dollars as a reward, enough to pay for a full year's tuition of schooling for Addy. But she politely refuses, saying she was only doing the right thing. The man, Mr. Radisson,  is undeterred, and offers her father, who has now joined them, a job with his construction company, starting with renovating the house Mr. Radisson just inherited from his late uncle. The Walker family can even live in the smaller house on the property. Things are looking pretty good for the Walker family...except that they're massively out of place in the well-to-do area. While they're moving, a police officer even stops them, accusing them of stealing the belongings they're carrying.

Addy and Sam talk about the incident later that evening. Sam points out that there are a lot of good things to focus on, like the job and the house--the first time the family has ever really had a house. He gives Addy a necklace that holds a protection stone. He's had it since he saved a boy from drowning years ago. Uncle Solomon gave it to him. Sam figures Addy deserves it now, and he says it will protect her from any danger or worry. Addy's especially happy to have the protection stone late that night, when she thinks she sees a ghost in the mansion. Could it be the deceased uncle?

There's not much time to worry about a ghost. Soon Mr. Radisson's mother arrives from Virginia, making no effort to conceal her distaste for "coloreds." Mr. Radisson cuts her off, but she's made quite the first impression. Later on, Mr. Radisson admires a dress that Mrs. Walker sewed for Addy...and hires her to alter the wedding dress his fiancee will wear at his upcoming wedding (she's using his mother's dress)! His fiancee, Miss Elizabeth, is a wonderfully kind woman, providing a nice contrast to Mrs. Radisson. She even gives Addy one of her couture dresses and invites her to a concert. Meanwhile, Mrs. Radisson has noticed food disappearing. She's convinced that "coloreds" are behind the thefts. Some of the food was in a basket that Addy discovers has a false bottom and inside the hidden compartment is a paper with strange markings on it.

Determined to find out what's happening, Addy stakes out the area. She sees an older woman scurrying about the property and follows her to a tool shed, where she sees the woman write a note in lemon juice. Addy doesn't get the courage to enter the shed until after the woman's left, but when she does, she sees that note is addressed to her! She eventually figures out that by holding the note near a flame, she can read the lemon juice message. The woman is asking for help, and terrified about something. Addy follows the note's instructions and meets with the woman, Miss Tucker, who turns out to have been a Union spy during the Civil War, and is now in hiding because Confederate sympathizers (like Mrs. Radisson) might want to do her harm. The deceased uncle kept her secret, but then he died suddenly and the woman doesn't know who she can trust. She's been sneaking around during the night, unwittingly playing the part of Addy's ghost. But with Mrs. Radisson around, Miss Tucker can't safely leave her hiding place. Addy agrees to bring her food when she can.

Then things take a turn for the worse. Miss Elizabeth sees the necklace from Uncle Solomon, and all of a sudden she can't stand the Walker family. She accuses Addy of stealing not only the food that Addy now knows Miss Tucker took, but an expensive necklace. Addy denies the rumors, but when the necklace surfaces in an area Addy was, Mr. Radisson tells the Walkers they have to move out in a week. Mr. Walker will have to find a new job as well as a new house, which will doubt be in poorer condition than where they are now. And Esther is ill, so a drafty apartment will be especially hard on her.

Addy's sure that she can find out why Miss Elizabeth suddenly hates her family if she looks in her room. She intends to be in and out in a flash, but gets distracted by a quilt that's almost identical to one Auntie Lula made AND a protection stone with Uncle Solomon's mark. Miss Elizabeth and Mr. Radisson find Addy and order the Walkers out. Just then Esther's illness ramps up with frightening speed. She appears to be dying, and very quickly. Addy quickly gets Miss Tucker, and Miss Elizabeth puts aside whatever grudge she has and the two women bring Esther back from the brink. As things calm down, Addy realizes the problem: Miss Elizabeth was trying to get rid of the Walkers because she knew Uncle Solomon. She must have been part of a slave-owning family, and was trying to hide that from Mr. Radisson, who, as an abolitionist, would never want to marry her.

But it's more than that: Miss Elizabeth is actually a former slave, passing for white. She's Uncle Solomon's niece. With everything out in the open, Mr. Walker can keep his job and the family can keep their house. Miss Tucker will also be allowed to stay until her safety is secured. Whether Mr. Radisson and Miss Elizabeth will marry remains to be seen; they need to get to know each other for real first.

Looking Back

The historical sections gives an overview of the civil rights struggles that former slaves and their descendants faced for over a century, from the Abolitionist movement before the Civil War to Martin Luther King Jr and beyond.


This book is dedicated to "to my daughter Latrayan (Sankofa) Mueed, who pushed me through this process. [And] to Peg Ross, you are the editor authors dream would appear. How happy I am you're in my life."

This book takes place in the winter of 1866.

The cost of Addy's education at the Institute for Colored Youth is consistent. 

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