The Chaneysville Incident is the result of a ten-year engagement with the story he wanted to tell by David Bradley; the author produced four different versions before reaching a state which most closely matched on paper what he had envisioned in his mind. Published in 1981, the book's origin traces back much earlier, to when the author’s mother happened to unearth a legendary story among the African-American community of Bedford County, Pennsylvania about the area’s place in the history of the Underground Railroad. That research would eventually confirm that the story was more than just legend with the discovery of the graves of fugitive slaves.
Another result of that research by his mother was the second novel published by Bradley. The Chaneysville Incident would go on to become a Book-of-the-Month Club Alternate Selection win the distinguished PEN/Faulkner Award, thus establishing the author as a major force to be reckoned among the younger up and coming crop of African-American writers.
The struggle toward completion which consumed a decade of Bradley’s career would require many different experimentations with the correct way to relate this story. Ultimately, the version which Bradley found satisfactory is fully constructed upon its pervasive theme of the necessity and consequent struggle to reconstruct the truth about black history in American from the fragmentary narrative about that truth created by white American society. Thus, The Chaneysville Incident is structured as weaving together of various perspectives that reveal the ways in which the past impacts the future, as well as how the present of every individual is the construction of a communal history.