Scenes from my childhood

The burning cross shown here in 1956 to protest singer and activist Paul Robeson is typical of Klan activity from my childhood years in the Florida Panhandle.

Florida Memory Photo

Paul Robeson had a great voice. We had a few of his recordings. But the KKK didn’t care about his voice or his records. They cared about his activism–as the sign says: “We protest Paul Robeson and all other communists.”

These are the memories of growing up that brought me to write the Florida Folk Magic Series of novels and to hate the Klan with a passion. It saddens me greatly to see Klan-like groups openly screaming out their hatred during these chaotic times.

Malcolm

Writing About Racism While Black

So, is our moment over? After George Floyd’s murder and the wave of online and offline outrage, are we just supposed to stop talking about racism now? That’s certainly what the social media algorithms seem to suggest. Suppression of Black voices seems to happen on every social media platform, but two of the most recent examples have been on LinkedIn and Facebook.

Source: Writing About Racism While Black. Are Black voices being suppressed on… | by Sharon Hurley Hall | ILLUMINATION | Aug, 2020 | Medium

I met Sharon Hurley Hall online years ago on a blogging site that’s long since faded away. For a while, a group of us who are writers formed our own, online critique group. Sharon focuses on providing content for businesses. She also has a new project, her anti-racism newsletter. That newsletter contains some of the best anti-racism writing I’ve ever seen.

It’s well thought out, on point, and provides food for thought in these troubled times that we can trust as being fair, reasonable, and accurate. Like this article, that newsletter (which has both free and paid subscriptions) provides the words of wisdom we need as we watch the news and see the protests in major cities.

As she suggests in this article, take a look at what’s happening on Facebook and other social media sites and draw your own conclusions about whether or not anti-racism posts and conversations are being allowed, placed at the bottom of the stack, or blocked. The last thing we need to do is cut off communication.

Malcolm

P.S. Hall, who lives in Barbados,  is the author of Exploring Shadeism, available on Amazon.

Parents aren’t supposed to like one of their children more than the others

Shameless promotion from your sponsor (me)

Southwest Airlines used to raise eyebrows during the flight attendant’s monologue about the plane’s safety features when s/he said, “If the masks are lowered during a flight put yours on first and then put the next mask on the child most likely to support you in old age.” Or, “The child you like best.”

I thought of this when a friend asked several days ago which of my novels I liked best while acknowledging that that might be impossible to do. I can pick one even though that doesn’t mean I’m discounting all the others. I told her it’s Conjure Woman’s Cat.

Here’s why.

  • It represented a change of focus for me in that I finally decided to address a hot-button issue for me: racism, Jim Crow, and the KKK as it was in Florida during my childhood.
  • After focussing on contemporary fantasy and one satire, I embraced magical realism with a story that would give rise to two sequels (soon to be three) while exploring the folk magic that was all around me in the Florida Panhandle.
  • While two earlier novels, The Sun Singer and Sarabande, focused on the somewhat esoteric themes behind the hero’s journey and the heroine’s journey, Conjure Woman’s Cat focused on backyard magic with a lot of folklore and a lot of ingredients close at hand.
  • I had a chance to do something unique and that was using a cat as the narrator. Why did I do this? Because, after having one or more cats in our household at all times for thirty-five years, I thought it more likely I could accurately write from a cat’s perspective than that of an African American woman who was (as she puts it) “older than dirt.”
  • My publisher, Thomas-Jacob, and I were lucky in that we found a wonderful and highly talented narrator in Wanda J. Dixon for the audio edition. She’s gotten rave reader reviews on Audible and a coveted Earphones Award Winner review from AudioFile Magazine. (“Most distinctive is Eulalie’s recurring sigh, which conveys her frustration with Florida in the 1950s, when Jim Crow laws and ‘Colored Only’ signs were routine.”)

Long-time readers of this blog know that I’m partial to Virginia Woolf’s statement in her novel Orlando: “In short, every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind is written large in his works.” I think that’s a given if an author is true to himself/herself. Yes, parts of me–my experiences and approach to life–live on in all my novels. But they loom the largest in Conjure Woman’s Cat.

The novel takes on more significance in my thoughts as riots and racism are looming large in the national consciousness–and major cities’ streets.

Malcolm

New “In the Spotlight” Page on Website: Landmark Florida Trial

The 1952 murder trial of Ruby McCollum in Live Oak, Florida had a very strong impact across the state, even catching the attention of those of us who were in grade school at the time. The story was in the newspapers. Adults talked about it. The consensus among many of us was that she didn’t get a fair trial in part because she wasn’t allowed to speak, to tell her story about being continually raped by a prominent white doctor over a six-year time frame.

I mention this trial in Eulalie and Washerwoman because it’s the kind of thing Eulalie, the conjure woman, would have things to say about. I’ve mentioned the case previously on this blog. Today, I decided it was time (probably far past time) to update my website’s In the Spotlight page which I use for announcing new books and commenting about places and events mentioned in the books. So as of today, the spotlight is now “The Case of Ruby McCollum.”

Florida residents and others interested in civil rights history should find this subject fascinating, angering, and sad.

–Malcolm

Eulalie and Washerwoman is the second book in my “Florida Folk Magic Series”

Review: ‘Barracoon’ by Zora Neale Hurston

Barracoon: The Story of the Last Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” by Zora Neale Hurston
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a shame that this book had to wait so many years to find a publisher. But we finally have Cudjo Lewis story. In her beautiful foreword, Alice Walker writes that “I’m not sure there was ever a harder story to read than this…” I agree. The story is unique in many ways: Cudjo, whose real name was Kossola, tells a story that includes his life in Africa and his life during the “Middle Passage” voyage to the United States after the slave trade was banned.  Most histories don’t include life in Africa or on the slave ship.

His story is dear because he wanted to tell it and because Hurston was a skilled anthropologist and knew how to collect stories. The story is dear because you can feel its truth in your bones; Hurston did not intrude herself or her perspectives into the narrative. And then, too, Curjo speaks in his own English dialect and that adds great depth and reality to the tale. We hear that Hurston couldn’t publish the book when she wrote it because the publishers wanted her to get rid of the dialect. I didn’t find it to be a problem even though a fair number of Amazon reader reviews say the dialect was hard to read. No, it wasn’t.

Cudjo has some traditional tales of his own to tell. These appear an appendix so that they won’t disrupt his story about being captured by blacks, placed in a barracoon (slave house), sold to whites, and then having to endure many days at sea before ending up at a plantation where he was expected to work. The experience seems incomprehensible to him. So, too, is the fact that once he’s set free, he has no money and no land, so where is he supposed to go?

Deborah G. Plant has done a fine job editing the material and writing an afterword and a glossary that place Cudjo’s story in perspective. Readers have a choice because the editor’s comments were placed in this separate section rather than being distributed throughout the narrative as lengthy and jarring footnotes. As such, you can read the story and then look at the added material–or simply read the story as a lover of Hurston’s works and/or oral history.

Cudjo’s story is filled with great loss, great wisdom, and–strange as it may seem–more humor than anger for a man torn away from the country of his birth and forced to live and work and endure a hard existence in a country where he was never whole again.

Malcolm

View all my reviews

‘American Trinity’ – Devastating perspectives about how the West was won

American Trinity: Jefferson, Custer, and the Spirit of the West, by Larry Len Peterson, Sweetgrass Books (August 1, 2017), 728 pages.

How did we “win” the west?

Our legends, movies, and novels present derring-do accounts of triumphs over a wondrous, yet dangerous environment; perseverance against inhospitable weather; heroic families and individuals undergoing multiple hardships in a search for the promised land; and surviving battles with rustlers, gunslingers and Indians.

Our high school history books presented Manifest Destiny as the the holy grail of America’s consciousness facilitated by soldiers, missionaries, and heroes who–sanctioned by reason, wisdom, and the Almighty–kicked the snakes out of Eden and made it accessible to pioneers, family farms, and continental commerce.

The focus of this well-researched, scholarly and accessible book comes from Peterson’s statement in the preface: “I have been haunted by the question: who were we and who are we as Americans and a nation? I believe a nation is defined by the people who create its history, and they are remembered by the authors who write their biographies. Reflecting on that era and all its symbolic meaning, I’ve wrestled with explanations to make sense of why the Indian’s way of life was destroyed and what authority justified it.”

The short answers to “what authority justified it,” which are presented in his broad-in-scope book that carries readers deep into the past for information, are religion, disease, the principles of the Enlightenment, European colonization, Social Darwinism, and military force.

American Trinity was named Best Nonfiction Book of 2017 by True West magazine.

From the Publisher: “American Trinity is for everyone who loves the American West and wants to learn more about the good, the bad, and the ugly. It is a sprawling story with a scholarly approach in method but accessible in manner. In this innovative examination, Dr. Larry Len Peterson explores the origins, development, and consequences of hatred and racism from the time modern humans left Africa 100,000 years ago to the forced placement of Indian children on off-reservation schools far from home in the late 1800s. Along the way, dozens of notable individuals and cultures are profiled. Many historical events turned on the lives of legendary Americans like the “Father of the West” Thomas Jefferson, and the “Son of the West” George Armstrong Custer – two strange companions who shared an unshakable sense of their own skills – as their interpretation of truths motivated them in the winning of the West.”

From reviewer Stuart Rosebook, “Truewest Magazine”: “Readers will quickly discover that the strength of Peterson’s American Trinity’s is in the depth of his research and personal introspection throughout his 725-page book. As Peterson states in his Preface & Acknowledgments: “The American Trinity is older and bigger than the American West. It is the story of the grand sweep of human experiences and their eventual influence on white racist attitudes toward Native Americans. History is important. When there is no knowledge of the past, there cannot be a vision of the future.”

Peterson, in the words of his editor, writes Jim Cornelius in “Frontier Partisans,” set out to “challenge views without demanding that you change yours.” He is not grinding an ideological ax – but he is facing up to some difficult history. A man of deep faith, Peterson wrestles with the role religion played in justifying conquest and the stripping of culture away from native peoples. A doctor and a man of science, he grapples with the use of ‘scientific racism’ to rationalize oppression.”

We think we know the west from watching “Bonanza,” “Gunsmoke” and “How the West Was Won.” The reality of the west and why we were drawn there as a young nation is much deeper and wider than TV serials and movies suggest. That reality not only prompts us to ask our ancestors “what were you thinking?” but prompts us to reassess what we’re thinking now.

–Malcolm

 

 

 

Looking back at civil rights protests with regrets

In the 1960s, African Americans (organized in large part by CORE) picketed the two major down town Tallahassee, Florida, theaters, the bus station and numerous lunch counters because these facilities were segregated. I was out of town when this protest occurred in May 1963 at the Florida Theater. Most of the time, I was in town but stayed away from the protesters even though I supported their cause. I still regret this.

Why wasn’t I there?

  • Fear of the white hecklers who openly hobnobbed with police.
  • Fear of the KKK.
  • Fear of losing friends and becoming an outcast.
  • Worry that my father would lose his government job.
  • Worry that my mother would lose her church volunteer work positions.

At the time, these concerns were very real. Unfortunately, they are in somewhat different ways, still real today.

The late Patrician Stephens Due, a Tallahassee CORE volunteer and a student at Tallahassee’s Black college (FAMU) was at the center of many of the Tallahassee protests. She would write later in the book she co-authored with her daughter that when it came down to it, a very small minority of African Americans actively took part in sit-ins or picketing. Fewer Whites took part even though many of us always rode in the backs of city buses when there was space. That wasn’t enough.

Looking back, I’m sorry that I didn’t do more.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of two novels about racism in Florida, “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and “Eulalie and Washerwoman.”