He passed me his phone with a world map pulled up next to an article. The article detailed that because of the extreme of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US, most countries are not allowing citizens from America into its lands. While we were not planning a trip out of the country, this made me think about the preciousness of now, of gratitude, and how quickly moments become memories.
How often do we stop to enjoy the minutes in front of us, before rushing on to the next something?
Fun Fact: I take a lot of pictures on vacation, but I rarely post them to social media when they were taken. Sometimes, I may not post photos at all on that day.
I started this practice after realizing how much I was missing with my head down. My husband would say stuff like, “did you see that deer?” No. I didn’t. I was uploading photos to Facebook.
I kept taking lots of pictures and sharing them, but not before enjoying the moment in front of me first. It has made all the difference. I can still taste the sweetness of the oranges we picked from the orange trees in Spain and smell the delicate fragrance of the lemons we picked from the lemon trees. And I can still remember the moment my husband snapped this picture, capturing forever a time I am not sure will ever return.
I do not know if the world is going back to what we considered normal, and I am not sure when we will travel again. But, I know that I will keep taking pictures and capturing moments because today is here; living and waiting to be filled. This second. This minute. This single hour. This unprecedented time. This precious right now that will undoubtedly become history. How does it feel to live history? Will we remember? What will we make of these moments before they become memories? What will we do with all these precious hours in front of us before they are gone?
In 1846, on the eve of the Mexican American War, hundreds of Irish-Catholic immigrants under the command of abusive, Protestant officers fled the American Army and joined the other side. They were formed into a special unit under their inspirational leader, John Riley. Known as the St. Patrick’s Battalion, they became the fiercest and most feared artillery unit in the Mexican Army. Loyal Son is the fictional story of one of those San Patricios, eighteen-year-old Patrick Ryan from County Cork, Ireland. On the brink of losing their farm, his father entrusts him with their life savings and sends him to America to purchase land and establish roots. He and his sister arrive at their uncle’s house in Philadelphia a week before anti-Catholic Bible Riots erupt. When rabid Nativists invade their neighborhood, Patrick joins his cousins to resist them. During the three days of violence, the family’s house is burnt to the ground and with it all of Patrick’s money. Desperate to make it right and fulfill his duty, Patrick joins the army for the enlistment bonus of one hundred and sixty acres of land. His only goal is to get a farm and see his father, mother and brothers join him and his sister in the Promised Land of America. Nothing worked out the way any of them hoped.
When Thomas Ryan realizes he won’t be able to save the family’s land in Newtownshandrum, County Cork Ireland, he decides to send his youngest son Patrick and his sister Ellen to America to find property for the family. The voyage to America is not an easy one. I enjoyed being able to experience what that was like for many of the immigrants through the characters, such as having to drink water contaminated from being stored in old, rotten containers, to rash and fever. After arriving in New York City, Patrick and his sister encounter trouble and are bullied by boys who force them to stay the night with a widow from Dublin named Mrs. Fitzsimmons. The next day, they meet their Uncle John and Aunt Mary, who they will live with as Patrick tries to find work to make money to buy land, and so starts the journey.
From the bible wars of the Catholic vs. Protestants, the Texas Annexation Treaty, the Election of James Polk, and the National Debate on Slavery, there is a lot of good history in the backdrop of Patrick’s journey. Through the eyes of a young Irish boy and his cousins, we see the racism and discrimination against the Irish people who are stereotyped as “alcohol-soaked animals, corrupt papists, and sexual deviants.” The author does an exemplary job of foreshadowing Patrick’s eventual enlistment in the army. When religious riots explode, it forces the family to defend their position, ultimately leading to the burning down of Uncle John and Aunt Mary’s home along with the savings Patrick was going to use to buy land.
Even though the story is from a young Irish boy’s perspective, I liked how historically accurate it is also for African Americans at the time. Slavery was such an ingrained part of American society that it was a common part of everyday life. The author shows this in his descriptions of the enslaved blacks and their interactions with the people around them.
“At daybreak, James walked down the porch to the barefoot, teenaged slave holding his horse.”
“A stout, unsmiling negress in a faded calico dress and a white kerchief wrapped around her head met them on the steps of the expansive portico. James handed her his hat, riding gloves, and overnight bag.”
“Jackson noticed his protégé approach and rose slowly from his chair. The small black boy attending him tried to help but the General snarled at him and he backed away.”
This book is action-packed all the way through, historically accurate, and because Patrick and his cousins are young men, it maintains the right balance by being just as fun as it is about war and racism. The boys are young, like girls, and get into some pretty severe fights and trouble with the law.
Loyal Son is not a short book, but if you enjoy history and have some time on your hands, you will love it.
When I started this blog and chose “truth is stranger than fiction,” as the tagline, it was puzzling to people. Someone even reached out to correct, me, saying, “don’t you mean the truth is stronger than fiction?”
No. Stranger is the word I meant.
What it seeks to communicate is that nothing we can create can be as unusual as what we find in actual life, and speaks metaphorically of the unsettling realness of truth—the “strangeness” of reality. You think something is weird until you find out just how deep the rabbit hole goes. You think my blog name and the tagline is strange until you understand what it means.
Everything that is happening right now, I could quickly put in a novel. Except, there is no story I can conjure up that would be equivalent to the real-life terror that blacks face and have faced every day in this country.
As someone who writes Black Historical Fiction, there is a strangeness about what’s going on because what happened in the 60s is still happening. And as I place my fictional characters amid events that actually happened, I realize that I am a character in the present world, a world that mirrors the one passed. Our children and their children will read about what happened this year, and they will ask the question, “what was it like living in a world with civil unrest because of the mistreatment of blacks during a pandemic?”
The first five months of 2020 have been brutal on every level, and we are living in what will one day be part of America’s history, and it must not be lost to us that we are part of that history.
If America were a house, racism would be the foundation on which this house sits. People don’t want to hear that many of the founding fathers were slave-owners. They don’t want to hear about the Slave Patrols turned southern police departments. People don’t want to hear that dismantling systemic racism means to dismantle that system. And people certainly do not want to hear about the spiritual connections between the afflictions blacks have endured, their real identity and heritage, and their place in America.
But there is no one way of looking at everything that’s going on, but this is also what makes writing a powerful tool for shedding light on these truths, exposing prejudices, and breaking down barriers, and eventually whole systems.
Everyone can’t be on the ground. I won’t say “on the front lines,” because I don’t believe there is one way to be on the front lines. The term comes from the military line or part of an army that is closest to the enemy. To be on the “front line” means to be closeted to the enemy, which is usually depicted as physically facing him. But there are other ways to face the enemy, and one way is to write with accuracy.
Write the truth. Write it as raw and as bloody as it is in real life. Pass down stories to the next generation that will teach them the truth about who they are. Take Toni Morrison, for example, who in the 60s and 70s chose to publish the books of black writers telling the truth and exposing lies. Books play a significant role in educating a people, and miseducation has a lot to do with what is and is not, written in books.
Writers are, therefore, also on the front lines and in a powerful way. In the words of Nina Simone, “you can’t help it. As far as I’m concerned, an artist’s duty is to reflect the times.”
As devastating as things are right now, what black writers write today, be it a poem or blog post or scholarly article, can make a difference in the next world.
This post was originally published under another blog series Unfamiliar Faces: Lost to History. Due the current climate I have revised this post and re-categorized it under Black History Fun Facts.
Originally Published: July 14, 2015
Revised May 29, 2020
The tragic murder of George Floyd, who sadly joins the ranks of several unarmed black men killed by the police, has sparked outrage, protests, and unrest. Images and footage of the officer, Derek Chauvin (who had 18 prior complaints against him according to the Minneapolis Police Department’s Internal Affairs), kneeling on Floyd’s neck as he repeated the too familiar phrase, “I can’t breathe!” is both horrifying and heartbreaking.
In response to the looting taking place by protesters of Floyd’s death, American President Donald Trump went on to call the looters “Thugs,” commenting that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” The phrase comes from a 1967 quote used by Miami’s police chief, Walter Headley, in 1967, when he addressed his department’s “crackdown on … slum hoodlums,” according to a United Press International article from the time.
From the killing of Emmett Till in 1955 that sparked the Civil Rights Movement, to the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church killing those four little girls in Birmingham Alabama in 1963 (Addie Mae Collins, 14, Cynthia Wesley, 14, Carole Robertson, 14, and Carol Denise McNair, 11). From the 1965 Watts Riots that broke out over Marquette Frye, to the police officers who beat Rodney King in 1991 and the riots that broke out over their acquittal. From the killing of Trayvon Martin, Micheal Brown, Ahmaud Aubrey, Breonna Taylor and many others, Black people are frustrated and crying out for redemption.
Today, we look at the racists’ roots in American policing.
Slave Patrols had three functions: to chase, apprehend, and return the enslaved who had run away to their “owners,” to organize terror to deter slave-revolts and to maintain discipline for slave-workers who were subject to violence if they broke plantation rules. These organizations evolved into southern police departments whose job was to control the freed slaves who were now working as laborers and to enforce the Jim Crow segregation laws that denied freed people certain human rights.
“Early American police departments shared two primary characteristics: they were notoriously corrupt and flagrantly brutal. This should come as no surprise in that police were under the control of local politicians. The local political party ward leader in most cities appointed the police executive in charge of the ward leader’s neighborhood. The ward leader, also, most often was the neighborhood tavern owner, sometimes the neighborhood purveyor of gambling and prostitution, and usually the controlling influence over neighborhood youth gangs who were used to get out the vote and intimidate opposition party voters. In this system of vice, organized violence and political corruption it is inconceivable that the police could be anything but corrupt (Walker 1996).” – Dr. Gary Potter
Slave Patrollers were white men who rode around on horseback carrying guns, rope, and whips, ready to capture the enslaved. Their job was also to enforce the pass system, a pass, or ticket, signed by the slave master that authorized the enslaved to travel. Without this pass, an enslaved person could be beaten, and beatings sometimes happened even when the person had a pass, eerily similar to black men and women who are beaten, choked, gunned down, and stepped on even when they have done nothing wrong.
In her book, Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas, Sally Hadden writes, “a mounted man presents an awesome figure, and the power and majesty of a group of men on horseback, at night, could terrify slaves into submission.” Many members of the black community still refer to large police vehicles as “patty-wagons,” a play on the former “paddyrollers,” which was also a nickname for Slave Patrols.
Run, nigger, run; the pateroller catch you, Run, nigger, run, almost dawn. Run, nigger, run; the pateroller catch you, Run, nigger, run, almost dawn.
As K. B. Turner , David Giacopassi & Margaret Vandiver remark in Ignoring the Past: Coverage of Slavery and Slave Patrols in Criminal Justice Texts, “the literature clearly establishes that a legally sanctioned law enforcement system existed in America before the Civil War for the express purpose of controlling the slave population and protecting the interests of slave owners. The similarities between the slave patrols and modern American policing are too salient to dismiss or ignore. Hence, the slave patrol should be considered a forerunner of modern American law enforcement.”
I learned a lot revising The Stella Trilogy, but the most important lesson I learned is, “the day you plant the seed is not the day you eat the fruit.” I don’t know who the original author is of this saying, and I know there are many versions of the same quote.
This means to me, the first time you get an idea is not the same time you will bring it forward. I had wanted to revise The Stella Trilogy for a long time, but it was hard to imagine taking the time to launch a book that has already released, let alone three. It was hard to imagine having the resources to produce three new covers, edit three separate books, format them, and all that other jazz.
But the day you plant the seed is not the day you eat the fruit.
I had to wait until I had the time and resources to get it done.
Then, I had to put it in my mind that once I began, I would have to keep going. This meant no waiting two and three months between books. If I was going to release book one, books two and three had to be right behind it.
And I’m sort of a slow writer.
It’s incredible to realize that what we put into our mind can manifest as we planned it if we are disciplined and patient enough.
It’s even more incredible to know that although a man plans his way, Yah guides his steps. (Prov. 16:9)
I wanted to release these books back to back, and I am thankful that I could accomplish what I set out to do.
It was hard for me to see the purpose of this endeavor at first, but revising these books helped me to see visions of another series using the same characters from The Stella Trilogy (something like a spin-off) with Joseph’s children.
Isn’t that amazing? Maybe revising this story wasn’t about what was already there, so much as what can grow from it.
I am excited about where these visions will take me and so happy to have you here with me.
Book three follows Stella’s son Joseph after a fight with his brother compels a young Joseph to leave his mother’s house and join his friends for a trip to Atlanta for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee’s (SNCC) second conference. Excited to live life on their own, Jo and his friends have left school and the lives they were living for a chance to become part of the movement. With no money and virtually no plan, the seven friends, three black and four white, set out for the road when they are stopped by a racist cop who makes them exit the car. The teens are unaware that a mob of Klansmen await them at the New Orleans bus terminal. Find out in the third installment of the Stella Trilogy how Joseph and his friends discover the hard way that freedom has never been free.
Today’s Black History Fun Fact Friday is from Joseph Ward.
Ward has prepared for us the inspiring story of Madison Washington, a formerly enslaved man who had escaped successfully and fled to Canada. Washington returned to Virginia to free his wife but was recaptured and put on a slave ship in Richmond, Virginia. Guys, Washington is the real-life Django Unchained! Not only does he free his wife, but many others.
Madison Washington was a man born into slavery in Virginia who escaped but risked his freedom to help free his beloved Susan. Washington is described as having extraordinary African features, superb leadership qualities, and a fierce spirit. They considered him a fugitive for escaping slavery and heading north to Canada, eventually finding work with a farmer named Mr. Dickenson. Even as a small child Madison would rebel against the inhumane treatment of him his slave masters, but rebellion eventually earned Washington his place in history.
Around the age of twenty Washington would meet the love of his life, the beautiful Susan, who he would make his wife. He planned to escape from slavery to free himself and his wife, but his plans didn’t work out. To prevent himself from being sold away from his wife, Madison escaped from the farm and hid in the surrounding woods for months. While in hiding he could keep an eye on his wife, he also began planning to lead a rebellion. His plans once again failed, and he eventually traveled north to Canada to live in free lands.
While in Canada Washington’s plan was to get a job and save enough money to buy the freedom of his wife Susan. He was becoming discouraged in carrying out his plans because he realized it would take five years to raise the money needed to free his wife. Washington made his mind up that he would return into the grasp of slavery to free his Susan. Mr. Dickenson the farmer tried his best to persuade Washington to take another course of action. He eventually left Canada with his wages and his freedom papers, heading south to Virginia. He could reach an area close to the farm where his wife was held but had to conceal his identity to prevent him from being captured.
Washington was still considered a fugitive, and anyone who recognized him would have blown his cover. Being a man of tact and organization, Washington carried miniature files and saws within the lining of his coat; these would help him break out of any chains used to restrain him. “Liberty is worth nothing to me while my wife is a slave,” said Washington as he held conversations with fellow travelers who tried to convince him to abandon his plans.
As Washington traveled closer to the farm that held his wife, he was forced to travel at night for fear of being recognized by someone. He found temporary shelter in the woods near the farm and tried to get information about her but was unsuccessful. One night while in hiding, he heard singing off in the distant woods; the singing was coming closer and closer to where he was hiding. As he investigated the singing, he became a part of the singing, there he learned that he stumbled upon a “corn shucking.”
A “corn shucking” was a mass gathering of slaves who pealed loads of corn, and after pealing the corn they were able to have a huge dinner with whiskey and dancing, which was provided by the owner of the plantation where the corn shucking took place. Washington refused to eat the food for fear of being discovered. He also was very careful to ask only a few questions and remain in the shadows. At the corn shucking, he learned that his wife had not been sold and was still on the old farm.
Being too eager to see his wife, Washington entered the parameter of the farm but was spotted by an overseer. The overseer then alerted the other white overseers on the farm. The first three men to approach Washington was struck in the face and knocked to the ground unconscious. Eventually, Washington was subdued, shipped to Richmond, Virginia, and sold to the slave owners Johnson and Eperson. New Orleans was the destination for The Creole, a slave ship controlled by Captain Enson and owned by Johnson and Eperson.
Washington and one-hundred and forty-four other slaves were loaded upon The Creole along with other cargo the men were shipping to New Orleans. As they loaded the slaves upon The Creole, the men were placed in one cabin and the women were placed in another. For fear of rebellion, the men were heavily chained, and Washington particularly was chained to the floor of the cabin. The women were not chained and were able to roam their cabin freely.
As Washington lay chained to the floor, his attitude was rather jovial than the expected gloom the other slaves displayed. The overseers didn’t know that while Washington was displaying a docile and cooperative attitude; he was secretly picking the men he would use to overthrow The Creole. They also didn’t know that Washington still carried his mini saws and files within the lining of his coat to use when the time was right.
In 1841, on the ninth day of the voyage, The Creole encountered rough seas which made several slaves very sick. Because some slaves were sick, the overseers did not watch them properly, this created the perfect opportunity for Washington and his men to attack. Washington used his mini saw and file to free himself and at least eighteen other men. Once free, the slaves found weapons and made their way to the deck where the ship’s crew was stationed. When the slaves attacked the ship’s crew it was unexpected, and it startled the crew, the men barley moved to make them easy targets for the slaves.
Hewell, the Black slave driver, and others from the crew drew their guns and shot some slaves. Washington spotted Hewell shooting his gun, approached him from behind, and struck him in the head, wounding him severely. Washington led his men into battle with iconic flair, fueling his men to earn their victory; the slaves then dominated the crew and gained control of The Creole. Washington’s men wanted to kill the remaining crew members who were still alive, but Washington allowed no more killing. He was not interested in killing the men, only gaining the freedom of his people and his wife.
The next morning, Madison Washington was named “Captain Washington,” commander of The Creole, by his men. That same morning, Washington requested that the cook prepare a wonderful meal for the men and women who were once captives on the ship. This meal would be the first time the men and women would see each other. Little did Washington know his beautiful wife Susan was one of the women held in the cabin on The Creole. As they served the meal, enslaved men and women mingled for the first time as free human beings. Washington and Susan spotted each other and shared a passionate, tearful reunion. After years of being separated because of slavery, Madison and Susan Washington were once again husband and wife.
Madison Washington and his men defeated the crew of the Creole, and Washington ordered that the men not be killed and their wounds treated. Once the wounds of the white men healed they tried to regain control of the ship but were defeated once more. Because of the bravery and brilliance of Washington, one-hundred, and forty-four, people could gain their freedom upon The Creole. The Creole didn’t make it to New Orleans, instead, Washington and his men landed in Nassau, Bahamas because they learned it was a free island. Washington was determined to free his wife, and his determination and love for his wife led to him freeing others he did not know.
The Story of Madison Washington and The Creole is a story many of us have never heard before; a man of African lineage who embraced freedom could not only change history but change the lives of others. This story is important because it shows that once organized black people can gain their freedom. It also exemplifies the commitment of a black man to his black wife, which is counter to the normal narrative which usually degrades the black family. If we unite and trust each other we can make the impossible, possible.
Mr. Madison Washington, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
Joseph A. Ward is a graduate of Florida A&M University (FAMU) and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. Ward is a graduate of the “New Hope Program” with the Florida Department of Health (DOH) in Leon County and has served as a co-facilitator of the program for over seven years, teaching life and professional skills to underprivileged persons. In addition to co-facilitating this program, he also helped establish the FAMU chapter of Men of Strength (MOST) and currently serves as its co-facilitator.
Over the past 14 years, Mr. Ward has dedicated himself to studying the history and the culture of the African diaspora. He is the founder of On the Shoulders of Giants, Inc., author of On the Shoulders of Giants Vol: 1 North America, and On the Shoulders of Giants Vol: 2 Central America. He is also the host of The Freedom Train Podcast Series and The Fix Sports Podcast.
Mr. Ward’s commitment to his community has proven him to be a reputable teacher, coach, trainer, and motivator. He is dedicated to uplifting and educating individuals around the world while helping to create mindsets and environments which foster greatness.
I am gearing up to release the last book in The Stella Trilogy, The Road to Freedom. After this book drops the series will be complete. Whoo hoo!
But what’s that saying? The real work begins after you release the book? Yea, that.
I don’t know who said it first, but there are no lies told here.
As book three is on its way out, I would like to draw more attention to books one and two by getting some book reviews in. As you guys know, these books were originally published in 2015-2016 but due to major editorial and formatting issues, I have had to take them down and relaunch them. One major risk of taking them down was losing the little reviews the books had. That was a risk I was willing to take if it meant a better reading experience. There are over three thousand followers of this blog. I am hoping I can get a few of you to help.
I just thought I’d ask. What’s that other saying? “Closed mouths don’t get fed.”
If you have read any of these books, it would mean everything if you could review them on amazon. Review book one here. Review book two here.
If you have never read these books and would like to receive an ARC copy, it would delight me to send it to you.
Comment below, contact me through the contact form or email me directly at email@example.com.