Product DescriptionWhen award-winning television news anchor Cheryl Wills discovers that her Great-great-great grandfather Sandy Wills was a runaway slave who joined the historic fight for freedom in the American Civil War she embarks on an gut-wrenching search to learn more about the courageous ancestor who demonstrated the same courage that she knew in her beloved father an intrepid New York City firefighter who died when Cheryl was thirteen and who never knew his family’s notable legacy.
Told with deep love and a brow-raising honesty Die Free stretches from Haywood County Tennessee in the 1860s to New York City in the twentieth century. Cheryl shares the unvarnished truth about the Wills’ family roots ever entwined in passion music and faith.
Cheryl also exhumes the spirit of her great-great-great grandmother Emma Wills an illiterate lionhearted widow who was discriminated against as she fought to obtain her husband’s Civil War pension and unwittingly dictated her historic life from slavery to freedom in sworn depositions to a lawyer. The century-old pension papers become the Holy Grail for the newscaster who nails a scoop that has forever changed her life and that of future generations.
A lesson in the pruning of one’s imagination Die Free takes readers on a haunting yet exhilarating ride through the side door of American history.
“Ancestry.com is proud that Cheryl Wills used our comprehensive website to make such a fascinating discovery. Die Free is a perfect example of why we do what we do! Cheryl Wills skillfully worked to uncover her family’s glorious and tragic past she learned the story of her ancestor Sandy Wills including stunning details of his sale into slavery his noble service in the Civil War and how he used his new-found freedom on every captivating page of Die Free. In the mingling of sweet and painful memories she finds a certain freedom of her own. She reminds us that her ancestors and our ancestors did not live in vain. Their strong spirits will continue to inspire us – if we let them."-Loretto “Lou” Dennis Szucs Vice President Ancestry.com author They Became Americans co-editor The Source: A Guidebook to American Geneaology
“Die Free is a compelling American story. As Cheryl Wills traces the life of her forefathers and foremothers she traces a critical part of American History that puts in perspective where we have come from to get to where we are. Cheryl writes with the passionate flair of a novelist that makes the book nearly impossible to put down. This is a must-read book for all members of the family young and old alike.” -Rev. Al Sharpton President and National Spokesman National Action Network
“Die Free is a testament of courage. My friend Cheryl Wills’ unselfish memoir is a history lesson for us all. She boldly goes where few authors have gone before. She gracefully shares her family’s history over the last two centuries and unabashedly proclaims their victory in surviving slavery and Jim Crow in the United States of America."-Hazel Dukes President NAACP NYS
“History is personal. Anyone who has difficulty making this connection should read Die Free Cheryl Wills’ chronicle of her ancestor’s African American journey from slavery to freedom. The stories are so deeply engaging that readers will quickly realize that in telling her personal story Cheryl Wills is also telling ours.”-Warrington Hudlin President Black Filmmaker Foundation (BFF) Award Winning Film/Television/Internet Producer
“Some 200 000 black men fought in the American Civil War yet their struggle for the right to fight and their heroic accomplishments are largely ignored. Cheryl Wills’ compelling narrative clearly illustrates that sacrifice and the distance mankind will travel in pursuit of freedom.”-Frank Martin Producer/Director For Love of Liberty: The Story of America’s Black Patriots
“Cheryl Wills’ emotions are strong and her voice is grippingly honest as she paints a portrait of the experiences of the men and women in her family. Die Free is thus a testimony to the legacy left by Cheryl’s great-great-great grandfather Sandy Wills and a memorable read for those who want to bear witness to a true and heartfelt rendering of the lives of African Americans over the last 170 years.” -Dr. Brenda M. Greene Professor of English Executive Director The Center for Black Literature Medgar Evers College CUNY Director National Black Writer’s Conference
“Die Free is an amazing book. Cheryl Wills’ account of her ancestors’ struggle for freedom over the last two centuries is a powerful reminder that the battle for liberty and equality is a constant one.”-Carmen Marc Valvo Acclaimed Fashion Designer and Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF) Ambassador
“Die Free is both confrontational and graceful. An epic family story that needed to be told. If you read Die Free while riding the bus or train be prepared to miss your stop.”-Derrick Adkins 1996 Olympic Gold Medalist & World 400 Meter Champion Nationally-known Motivational Speaker
“Don’t let the smooth and mellow news anchor delivery fool you. Get NY1 news veteran Cheryl Wills talking about the suffering and sacrifice of her enslaved African ancestors and there’s a passion unleashed that you wouldn’t believe.”-Nayaba Arinde New York Amsterdam News
“Die Free is a significant contribution to the body of literature that traces the experiences and family heritage of Africans in the diaspora a journey that is all too familiar. This book is another critical milestone in exploring the cultural dimensions and necessary ties between Africans from the continent and our brethren the African Americans in these United States.”-Sidique Abou-Bakarr Wai President and National Spokesperson United African Congress
“Finally we get the stories through our eyes through our interpretations and from our memories. It is indeed time for us to remember to record and to honor all of the people who make up the stories in our African-American narrative. They are heralding loudly today even as others call them unsung. We hear them clearly on the wings of the Sankofa and we will continue to testify. Cheryl Wills’ Die Free most certainly is quite a testimony.”-Marva Allen CEO HueMan Bookstore Harlem NY
“The discovery of Cheryl’s great-great-great grandfather has been a fortuitous and unexpected find—tracking down slavery ancestry is never easy as slaves were treated as property bought and sold and rarely referred to by name.”-Craig Rice Association of Professional Genealogists
“This book is a mesmerizing journey traveled by Cheryl’s ancestors as they endured the dehumanizing experience and brutality of slavery. The author captured the essence of the chaotic disorganized and disruptive nature of family life after the Civil War. She tells the story with brutal frankness but with courageous grace. Unlike many authors of memoirs Cheryl Wills didn’t skirt the issues and certainly didn’t sugar coat what may be described as unpleasant truths of life in the Wills household.
I strongly recommend this book as essential reading for those who wish to learn about the sacrifices and the successes of victims of the abhorrent debilitating system of slavery. Jim Crow laws lack of education and religious misinterpretation of the Bible all of which relegated Blacks to non-person status.” -Dr. Marcella Maxwell Brooklyn College 2nd V.P. Greater New York Links
“Cheryl Wills has used her journalistic gift by taking her pen in hand to write the story of her family life and she presented it in a colorful and fascinating way which is indeed the foundation for an electrifying movie. I hope that all who read this book will be inspired to put in writing their family life’s journey.”-Dabney N. Montgomery Tuskegee Airman World War II Great-grandson of Joe Montgomery United States Colored Troops
Cheryl Wills is an anchor and reporter for Time Warner Cable’s flagship news network New York 1 News based in New York City. She has been with the news channel since its launch in 1992 and is one of the station’s most recognizable journalists for breaking news and special coverage. She has received numerous awards for her work including New York Press Club and AP Awards as well as the YMCA National Black Achievers in Industry Award. In 2010 McDonald’s honored Wills as a broadcasting legend in a regional ad campaign. She was awarded an honorary doctorate from New York College of Health Professions in May of 2005. Cheryl and her husband John Jr. have one son John III. They live in a suburb of New York City.