Racism: old, ugly, and inexcusable

The Florida Folk Magic series is set in the fictional town of Torreya 53 miles west of Tallahassee in the “other-Florida” world of the panhandle of the 1950s when the Ku Klux Klan, police officers, church elders, city fathers, and your next door neighbor were hard to tell apart. The sunshine state advertised itself as a playground and that’s what northern snowbirds saw. Residents, especially African Americans, saw it as a world of terror.

Unfortunately, racism is still with us in the new century. Progress has been made since the years when these stories are set. But inequality still exists, hate groups still urge Americans to return to the Jim Crow era, and even the discussions about how to bring about quality change are often divisive. This trilogy of novels was written with the hope that the voices for love, trust, and true equal rights will prevail. – Conjure Woman’s Cat Website

During the 1950s, it never occurred to me that the racism I saw around me during the Separate-but-Equal, Jim Crow era would still be suffocating our country, ruining lives, and causing violence 70 years later. I’ll confess that I was naïve in my outlook then, but I thought we as a people were better than that. I still hope that someday soon, we will be.

I have no intention of spinning the good, the bad, and the ugly of politics here or engaging in a discussion in the comments about whose fault the resurgence of racism debates is. What I see in the news and in social media is making things worse. Charges and counter-charges are not an informed debate, much less a route toward a united country where racism is no longer an issue.

To some extent, some of the news outlets are at fault because they are selective in what they show since what they show supports their agendas. Those who watch different networks and/or view different online news sites get radically different versions of the news. When news organizations have agendas, that is, loyalties to one political party or the other, we all end up with corrupted versions of what’s happening in our country and the world.

As a former college journalism instructor, it saddens me when reporters and their networks/newspapers throw objectivity out the window. Bias is the first indicator of a newspaper or news channel that cannot be trusted. Yet people are trusting them and basing their opinions on horrible reporting.

The social media further disseminate these erroneous and twisted views. People believe what they hear on their selected news outlets without bothering to check other sources for more information, much less alternative views. Most people–as evidenced by their social media comments–don’t seem to realize that many programs on CNN and FOX are not news shows, but opinion shows. Yet, these viewers think they’re getting real, objective new coverage.

Among other things, racism is being perpetrated for ratings and votes

To my mind, that’s like yelling fire in a crowded theater. One-sided coverage about nasty white cops is fueling the fire. One-sided coverage about black crimes is fueling the fire. This isn’t dialogue, it’s propaganda. It’s making people fearful of each other rather than bringing them together.

I saw news stories like this during the Jim Crow era. I don’t expect to see them now. But, political parties and sullied news organizations are doing all they can to ensure that the United States remains racist. This approach is old, ugly, and inexcusable. Blacks and Whites deserve better than this. Instead, we’re being fed propaganda that keeps us at odds with each other.

The best question I can ask is: “Who is profiting from the discord?

I think we need to find out and vote them out of office, stop buying their products, and stop seeing them as saints with words of wisdom. They are morally, spiritually, and ethically bankrupt.

Malcolm

 

 

 

 

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Florida Folk Magic Series: a journey into the past

In 1954, the year in which most of my Florida Folk Magic Series is set, Dwight D. Eisenhower was President, Richard M. Nixon was Vice President, Earl Warren was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and  Elvis Presley issued his first single, “That’s All Right”, on Sun Records. It was the era of an unconstitutional Communist witch hunt conducted by Senator Joseph McCarthy. It was the era of Jim Crow and the so-called “separate but equal” doctrine.

It seemed natural to me then, even in grade school, that people were still talking about World War II and that when kids played army in their backyards, they were fighting the Japanese and the Germans. What seemed unnatural to me then was that people were still, one way or another, fighting and re-fighting the U. S. Civil War.

The words “terrorism” and “terrorist organization” weren’t part of national security debates in those days, but if they had been, the KKK should have born that label; permitting the group to march in parades was, as saw it then, as ludicrous as allowing the Mafia to march in parades and, as I see it now, made as much sense as allowing ISIS to march in a U. S. parade today.

My own childhood years were good ones, but Klan violence–which was heavy in Florida–and the mistreatment of African Americans as a group were, to me, an intolerable smear on our nation’s intentions and mission as written down in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

The vestiges of that smear are still part of a polarized national debate today. We still have more problems to solve and attitudes to change in 2018 than we should. White supremacists, neo-Nazis, bigots, and misogynists, as I still see it, are people with an Attila the Hun mentality and, frankly, we’d be better off if we put them on a giant ice-flow and set them adrift during hurricane season.

Yes, I have strong feelings about these issues.

But in spite of those feelings, the three books in this series are not intended as a political statement. They are history. They are the culture of another era. And they are the everyday magic of another era, one that still has many devotees today. It has been said that in the South, Whites didn’t like Blacks as a race but liked many of them personally as individuals. From what I saw, there was at least some truth in this, for our moderate and liberal White friends did have Black friends and colleagues. Even so, the KKK prescribed how far we could go.

If a White went “too far,” s/he would run into trouble that could be fatal. If we broke one of the rules–such as allowing a Black to sit in the front seat of our car or walk through the front door of our house–the Blacks would say, “this isn’t done” because they were even more at risk should anyone see the infraction than we were.

Oddly enough, Scouting brought conjure to my attention. That is, we learned to respect the out of doors and how to live safely in forests and swamps. This led to discussions with Black friends who had additional ideas about what was out there and how to safely approach it. Needless to say, I didn’t take any hoodoo practices back to the Scout troop or overtly use them on our monthly camping trips. But those practices taught me a lot about humankind’s potential relationships with the environment, one that in later years ecopsychology would explore without deriding these relationships as superstition.

The bottom line for a novelist is telling stories set in specific time periods with characters with points of view that aren’t always mainstream. Yes, as a writer I also needed to make sense of what I saw as a child, but not in a political treatise. I’m drawn, as I was then, to the people themselves and how they fought against the dangers that came into their lives. Have I put tall my demons to rest? Probably not.

Nonetheless, writing these stories has brought me a sense of closure to the time when First Lady Mamie Eisenhower christened the Nautilus, our first nuclear-powered submarine, Vice President Richard Nixon said we might send troops Indochina (as we called it then) even if the allies didn’t like it, the United States Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools were unconstitutional, and Blacks weren’t allowed at lunch counters where I had the blue plate special or in the front of the city bus I rode into town.

–Malcolm

 

 

 

 

Coming this year: ‘Lena,’ the third novel in my Florida Folk Magic Series

We hear that books in series tend to sell better than standalone books. But, we also hear that if the first book in a series is well liked, the author might have trouble keeping readers’ interests in subsequent books.

Early reviewers who liked “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” said they though book two, “Eulalie and Washer Woman” was even better. The readers were happy and I was relieved that I hadn’t botched up the whole thing by writing a sequel.

The odd thing is, the sequel has sold fewer copies than the original and has a fraction of the reviews. Go figure.

So, I had mixed feelings writing a third book. On one hand, I thought that with the declining interest shown for book two, it was kind of silly to write book three. However, I had a few things left to say. Or, perhaps, the characters did. Book three was harder to write than the previous books. So, it took longer.

But finally, Lena is almost ready to send to my publisher. We’ve already been having conversations about the cover. As far as the cover goes, our artist for books one and two has moved onto other things. So, we’ll need somebody new.

What’s left to do? Well, this is the polishing the manuscript phase. That means going through the story page by page to get rid of any inconsistencies, typos, continuity problems, or stupid mistakes I can find before sending the DOC file to Thomas-Jacob Publishing. Fortunately, we have a great editor who will catch 99 and 44/100 percent of the mistakes I miss.

I have no idea how long it will take to get everything squared away. Several months, perhaps. Like most authors who get to know their characters throughout a series of books, I will miss these people. But, I suspect it’s time to move on to other themes and other stories. (I reserve the right to change my mind.)

For years, I wondered if I would ever find the characters and story lines to write about the racism in Florida during the years when I was growing up. For prospective readers, I hope I did.

Malcolm

Click on my name for my website.

Looking back at ‘The Florida Terror’

Florida KKK in 1952, Florida Memory Photo.

Progressives in Florida registered 100,000 new African American voters in 1951 and branches of the NAACP challenged Jim Crow laws at swimming pools, libraries, golf courses and libraries. The legislature passed an anti-mask ordinance.

As PBS notes, “The Klan responded with a rash of cross burnings and floggings from the Florida Panhandle to Miami; Hendrix [who chartered the latest iteration of the Klan] declared war on ‘hate groups,’ including the NAACP, B’nai B’rith, the Catholic church, and the Federal Council of Churches of Christ; and then declared himself a candidate for governor. By the summer, the Klan began trying to roll back progress with sticks of 60 percent dynamite, with so many bombings, or attempted bombings, that the northern press dubbed it ‘The Florida Terror.'”

In many communities, the sheriffs, police chiefs and city fathers were members of the Klan. Meanwhile, the same people associated with themselves with policy gambling operations aimed at African Americans because–in exchange for protection and looking the other way–they got rich from their cut of the action.

Still a community blemish in the 1970s.

The KKK was a fact of life in the Florida Panhandle as well as the peninsula when I was growing up. I saw burning crosses, knew people who were threatened, and sat in my car in down town Tallahassee waiting for their disgusting parades to get off the streets. And, unfortunately, I knew influential people whom I strongly believed were members of the Klan.

The state advertised itself as a paradise, but that reality didn’t extend to everyone. “The Ku Klux Klan was at least as violent in Florida as anywhere else in the nation, and the sheriffs, juries, judges, politicians, press, and citizens, for the most part, as culpable in its murderous history,” Michael Newton wrote in his 2001 book The Invisible Empire: The Ku Klux Klan in Florida.”

“The bed sheet brigade is bad enough, but the real threat to Americans and human rights today is the plain clothes Klux in the halls of government and certain black-robed Klux on court benches.” ― Stetson Kennedy, author of  “The Klan Unmasked.”

My novels Conjure Woman’s Cat and Eulalie and Washerwoman focus on the dark era of the 1950s. The first novel tells the story of a white-on-black crime that the small town police force refused to investigate. In the second, the police turn a blind eye toward policy gambling and the threats against those who couldn’t pay their gambling debts. In my fiction, I have a powerful conjure woman named Eulalie with a very helpful cat named Lena.

I didn’t have the grit to tell these stories years ago, but I’m hoping that the better-late-than-never axiom is true.

–Malcolm

The Writer’s Comfort Zone

Robert Hays

Today’s guest post is by Robert Hays, author of four novels, including Blood on the Roses (Vanilla Heart, July 2011) and The Life and Death of Lizzie Morris (Vanilla Heart, January 2009). He has worked as a newspaper reporter, public relations writer, magazine editor, and university professor and administrator.

The Writer’s Comfort Zone

Most writers seem to do their best work when they stay within their own comfort zone. This may be through genre—once you’ve written a couple or romance novels, for example, or a murder mystery or two, you’re likely to begin a new work of that kind with a better idea of where you’re going with your story and have a good sense of its possibilities and  limitations. I don’t consider myself a genre writer, but after being a journalist for most of my adult life I’m definitely a realist. This means my comfort zone is in settings that will seem familiar to readers and characters that are like people I know. Further, my story line is likely to be based on actual experiences, either my own or those I’ve read about or heard about and can research for realistic detail.

I love Malcolm Campbell’s exotic fantasy novels, particularly since he uses my home region—central Illinois—as a setting. But I could never write what he writes. Or if I did no one would want to read it. I’m glad there are writers, like Malcolm, who are more creative than I.

Being a realist has its advantages. When I decide that I want to tell a story based on some past experience, I’m half way home. This was especially true in the case of my newest work, Blood on the Roses. During my last few years of teaching at the University of Illinois, I learned that students today—our best and brightest twenty-year-olds—have little knowledge of the history of racism in America. Perhaps they’ve heard about it in school, but they don’t really understand it or comprehend how bad it was. They have never experienced anything like it.

Understanding Our Past

I believe we need to know and understand our past. The bitter as well as the sweet, the ugly along with the beautiful. We need to know the wrongs if we are to make sure they don’t happen again.

Blood on the Roses is about racism and other prejudices. It is set in east Tennessee in 1955, which just happens to be the year before I was sent to the South by the U.S. Army and witnessed racial segregation as state policy for the first time. It also is the time of the Emmett Till murder in Mississippi and just months after the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed school segregation. I remember very well the “Impeach Earl Warren” billboards along major highways in  the South. This all became fodder for my mill, and the reader will understand that this is an authentic story of life at that time.

I love the South. I love Southern people. I’ve been married to one for decades, as a matter of fact. Blood on the Roses is not an indictment of Southern people or the Southern way of life. It is an indictment of racism as it existed then, and as it must never be allowed to exist again. And it is solidly grounded on my realistic journalist’s view of the world as I saw it.

Visit Robert Hays’ blog site at http://authorroberthays.wordpress.com/ or his personal web site at http://home.comcast.net/~roberthayswriter/site/. You may also like his review of Kathryn Stockett’s bestselling novel “The Help.”