Florida was a violent place of unimaginable racial turmoil during the early-to-mid 1900s, especially in the peninsula, and while I’ve researched this subject numerous times to check on facts for my Florida Folk Magic Series, reviewing all that again now for the novel in progress is making the novel almost too hard to write.
Some incidents are so extreme, that I cannot fathom a person (or mob) doing such things to another person. I need to take a deep breath and step away from this because the details make me sick. While I would never put the worst of them into my novels, I cannot “un-see” them, so to speak.
The worst incidents look like what would happen if the scum behind them read through the “medical” experiments conducted on living people by Nazi SS officer Dr. Josef Mengele, the so-called “Angel of Death.” I refuse to put such details into my work. And, I don’t have to do it because I’m not writing directly about the incident, but about people’s response to such incidents.
Yet, when writing about people fighting the KKK in Florida in the 1950s, it’s difficult to stay away from including characters discussing atrocities that were heavily covered by the press rather like characters in current novels mentioning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or, say, the highly publicized shooting that takes place in the town where a novel is set. Such references add depth to the novel, I think, by anchoring it in a real-time and a real place, and by showing what the characters think about the events.
For example, the current novel-in-progress is set in 1955. One of the characters is an FBI agent who has just returned from a follow-up investigation into the assassination of civil rights activist Harry T. Moore in Mims, Florida. Moore’s house was blown up with dynamite on Christmas day in 1951. He and his wife were killed, and this we might say was the first assassination of an active civil rights leader. Florida would conduct multiple investigations for over fifty years. It appears that the perpetrators died of natural causes (and one suicide) before the initial FBI investigation ended.
I have to mention Moore in my novel. The problem, during the research phase, is that the bombing of Moore’s house is tangled up with other central Florida racial crimes. So, one sees a lot that one doesn’t want to see. I’m happy that most of it isn’t relevant to the plot of the novel. Yet, I still need to take that deep breath and maybe a Xanax and/or a glass of Scotch. You can learn more about Moore and his legacy here.
Those of us who research the past ultimately run into the very things we don’t want to see. That’s when we have to become editors and weed out the worst of the worst when it’s not on point to the story we are telling. Those who want to know more can follow our references to the greater truths.
The humanity within us calls upon us to do better. A writer can tell a story in which the protagonist triumphs over evil, or at least makes things better. That’s harder to do in “real life.” But we have to try, don’t we?