Historical Fiction (specifically Black Historical Fiction) is my favorite genre to read and to write. I have to specify “Black” because I am not a fan of all Historical Fiction. My interest lies specifically in fiction stories that explore black history in some way.
Historical Fiction is the past recreated around the stories of people who seem real to us, including actual historical figures at times.
As we witness how fictional characters we care about interact with our ancestors and navigate a world now gone from us, it allows us to experience the past vicariously. Through the stories of the characters we can “visit” history and get a feel for what it was like to live in that time. But why is this important? I think a quote from the Toni Morrison Documentary “The Pieces of Me” (Hulu) sums it up:
“You imagine the past because the past has been ruptured. The record of the past of your people has been degraded. It’s been burned up, it’s been taken away.”
Not only has the black past been degraded but also entirely and tragically whitewashed. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a good example of someone whose humanness has been reduced to the one “Negro” who bridged the gap between blacks and whites. A Civil Rights hero who succeeded in making blacks docile enough to accept that merging with white people was the best version of themselves possible. That, if we integrated, we were better people than if we had our own communities and businesses, and could determine the direction of our own destinies. Not that segregation was wrong, but that integration was better. That blacks were better when mixed with something else; that we could not be the midwives of our own selves.
Although King was known as a civil rights leader and Malcolm X as a “black radical” both men were advocates of oppressed people. King told black people their blackness was beautiful, believed in economic freedom and establishing black businesses, preached on black power, and even owned a gun. King was just as “radical” as he was patient…but this isn’t the version of King we are given.
White America adopted Dr. King and used him as the black friend that is used by some to say, “Hey, I can’t possibly be racist because I have a black friend.” King is that friend. Sadly, we have someone whose name is widely known, but who, as a person, is not very well understood.
Forget about the Civil Rights icon, who was Dr. King as a man? Who was Malcolm X as a man? What could we imagine their persona’s to be like? Those of us born after they lived do not know but we can imagine.
What I do as a writer is to take the part of history not taught in schools, and use it as a tool to invent people who could have lived in a world that did exist. To then take these people and let them show us the truth about that time and place. To give these people real feelings and a voice that is authentic to what they could have said or what they could have done. I love to go back to a time before I was born and, through research and creativity, imagine what it would have been like to live in that era.
Book One Re-releases on March 24, 2020
About Book One:
Cynthia McNair and her boyfriend, Alex, express some racist feelings toward blacks. The visit Cynthia’s grandmother Sidney McNair, who recounts the story of her ancestor, an enslaved woman named Stella Mae. Cynthia has no idea of her African ancestry or how deep this rabbit hole goes. Will she accept the truth about herself?
There are only TWO days left of the $200 Amazon Giveaway! You can enter as many times as you like! Go, go, go! Link below:
The best way to extend the legacy of those who came before us is not to talk but to do the work as they have done. That said, what did King do that we may not already know about? Here are the facts.
1. The Poor People’s Campaign
King founded a program for the poor he called The Poor People‘s Campaign that he was just getting off the ground before his death. In December 1967, King wanted to bring together poor people from across the country to demand better jobs, better homes, better education, and better lives. The purpose behind the campaign was to, “dramatize the plight of America’s poor of all races and make very clear that they are sick and tired of waiting for a better life.” (Dr. Ralph Abernathy) King said, “If you are, let’s say, from rural Mississippi, and have never had medical attention, and your children are undernourished and unhealthy, you can take those little children into the Washington hospitals and stay with them there until the medical workers cope with their needs, and in showing it your children, you will have shown this country a sight that will make it stop in its busy tracks and think hard about what it has done.” Ultimately, King put together a plan that he thought would help solve poverty so that every American had a guaranteed income. His program was set to begin on April 22, 1968 but he was assassinated on April 4th.
2. Fought for Better Schools for Children in the Cabrini Green Projects
In 1966, King moved into an apartment on Chicago’s West Side as part of the Freedom Movement. At this point, he was less interested in Civil Rights and more interested in Human Rights which included fair housing in Northern cities. Chicago has always been a segregated city and was even more so in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. A system of redlining was implemented that prevented blacks from purchasing property in their own communities. Not only was the rent high but run-down apartments were divided into what was called Kitchenettes. Kitchenette’s split six-family apartments in half so they became one-room apartments.
“The Kitchenette is our prison, our death sentence without a trial, the new form of mob violence that assaults not only the lone individual but all of us in its ceaseless attacks.” – Richard Wright
The Projects were the answer to the slums but did not fare much better. People eventually abandoned public housing for the suburbs once offended that blacks were being treated as whites. Newspapers and Ads boasted Blacks and Italians living side by side, happy and positive. The public wasn’t having it. Riots broke out as whites pulled blacks out of their cars, beating them. Middle-class blacks were forced out as the screening process got more and more relaxed. Eventually, Gates were put up that made residents feel imprisoned. The once “promised land,” that was the newly established projects became just another ghetto. Black schools also suffered. One elementary school was overcrowded and King fought with residents to get a racist teacher fired. “The people from Mississippi ought to come to Chicago to learn how to hate,” he said after being stoned by angry white residents in the then all-white Marquette Park on the city‘s Southwest Side. When parents were in their third day of a planned strike, King met with them, saying, “Should you in any way be persecuted or prosecuted for attempting to seek the best education possible for your children, I can assure you that thousands of parents from all over the city will come to your aid and together we will join you in jail if necessary.”
3. Campaigned for Black Sanitation Workers in Memphis
King helped black sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee in March and April 1968. He compared their struggle with the poor people‘s campaign, saying, “a fight by capable, hard workers against dehumanization, discrimination and poverty wages in the richest country in the world.” He was in Memphis for a sanitation strike when he was murdered at the Lorraine Motel. The deaths of Echol Cole and Robert Walker brought the issue of the sanitation workers into the public eye. On February 1, 1968, in Memphis TN, these men were crushed to death by a trash compensation mechanism on a garbage truck that malfunctioned.
Their deaths highlighted the dangerous conditions and the strike that resulted from these men’s deaths brought it to the attention of Civil Rights leaders like Dr. King. However, at this time King was less interested in Civil Rights and saw this not as another opportunity to march but a chance to further the Poor People’s Campaign. “He saw the Memphis strike and the workers’ demand for union rights as embodying the goals and values of his fledgling Poor People’s Campaign, a movement that sought to bring a multiracial coalition of religious leaders, workers, and the poor together to fight poverty in a way that intentionally centered the voices of the marginalized. “(P.R. Lockhart, 4, April 2018) Sadly, he would be shot at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, later dying at St. Joseph’s Hospital, leaving his campaign unfinished.
King did the work. He didn’t talk about it or stand on the sidelines. MLK was more than an “I Have a Dream,” speech. He was actually on the ground doing the work. Read his books and listen to his other speeches, the ones that aren’t being promoted by the media (The Three Evils of Society is a good one).
PBS aired an excellent documentary this week on black business ownership. Boss: The Black Experience in Business, explores the inspiring stories of trailblazing Black entrepreneurs and the significant contributions of contemporary business leaders. From the collapse of the Freedman’s Bank, the lynching of black grocery store owner of The Peoples Grocery, Thomas Moss, to Booker T. Washington’s National Negro Business League, a network of black entrepreneurs. By 1900 there were about 20,000 black owned businesses in the U.S. and I’ve got tons of ideas for future fun facts!
Today I’d like to extend a warm welcome to Alycee Lane. Welcome to The PBS Blog! Let’s get started.
What is your name and where are you from?
My name is Alycee Lane and I’m from Buffalo, New York.
Nice, I’ve been to New York once. What is the most annoying habit that you have?
I laugh loudly at my own jokes, including the ones I tell in my own head.
Lol. What was your childhood dream?
My childhood dream was to be a doctor who would cure cancer. That dream ended when, at the age of six, I was spanked vigorously for having poured my secret cure into my mother’s milk at the dinner table.
Oh wow. You rebel you. What skill would you like to master?
I really would like to master playing the saxophone, but I’d actually have to learn how to play the saxophone.
Lol. I love it. What would be the most amazing adventure to go on?
I think it would be amazing to venture off to Antarctica. On the other hand, I left Buffalo, New York for a reason (spoiler: it wasn’t because of buffalo wings).
Speaking of wings, what’s your favorite food?
Anything with pork, which is why being a vegetarian, is pretty damn hard.
Oh Alycee. That was not the right answer. Anything but pork! Don’t do it lol. What kind of music do you like?
I can’t get enough of jazz and blues.
What do you wish you knew more about?
Black holes. The idea of them really blows my mind.
In your own words, define racism.
Voting for Donald Trump.
LOL. What TV channel exists but really shouldn’t?
FOX NEWS. FOX NEWS. FOX NEWS. FOX NEWS. FOX NEWS. FOX NEWS.
Are you religious Alycee?
Yes. I attend Bedside Baptist every Sunday (this is one of those moments when I am laughing at my own joke).
Rofl. You are a trip. Let’s talk about my favorite subject. How long have you been writing? Tell us a little bit about the journey thus far.
I have been writing earnestly since 2012, though I had written some academic papers before then. A few months before my dad died in 2010, he asked me, “when are you going to write?” He knew it was my life aspiration. What he didn’t know at the time, however, was that, in my mind, I had decided to let that dream go. I was done. When I reflect on that moment, I’m inclined to believe that, on some spiritual level, he did know that I had given up. Those who are facing death often see and know things quite clearly. And if they’re your parents…well, then they see through you as well. I remember shrugging, in that way children do when they’ve been caught. The question bothered me enough that, two years later, when my mother’s health began to fail, I was writing like crazy.
In some ways, then, my writing has been a journey through grief, as well as a return to who I really am – the person whom my father clearly knew and saw. For that reason, the journey has also been a powerful one.
That’s powerful. What’s the most difficult thing about being a writer?
The most difficult thing about being a writer is keeping a muzzle on the little critic who sits on my shoulder and pretends to be my muse. The most exciting thing is creating that perfect sentence, the one that sounds right.
“Once I was willing to step out of the closet and be completely vulnerable – to expose myself knowing that I could very well become (even more) an object of hate and of violence from people who looked like me and from those who didn’t– once I allowed myself to be that raw, I became absolutely and devastatingly powerful.”
I don’t know. It is. I think I would talk too much if I didn’t write. Or –or, I would finally learn how to play the sax.
I understand that you specialized in African American literature and culture of the civil rights and black power movements. You also explore political issues through the prism of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s philosophy of nonviolence. I love the Panthers as well as Dr. King. What attracted you to this kind of work? Can you tell us a little bit about your inspirations?
Okay, so not the easiest questions for someone who’s spent the whole day with a five-year-old.
Lol. Answer the question Alycee!
I come from a very political family, so I naturally gravitated toward studying the literature and culture of the CR/BP movements (plus, I am old enough to remember the Free Angela Davis movement, and I used to shout “Black Power” out of my school bus window while being bused across town. To this day, I remember the “White Power” sign that hung from one of the houses I passed every day to get to my integrated school).
So, my main inspirations were my parents, as well as my brothers and sister. Then there were my professors at Howard University, mainly Patricia Jones Jackson and Claudia Tate, from whom I took Howard’s first Black Women Writers class. I went to Howard intending to matriculate for law school and ended up leaving there with a Ph.D. on my mind. Good teachers can do that to you. Also among my influencers: Valerie Smith, Richard Yarborough, and Kim Crenshaw.
Oh, yeah: Toni Morrison, Barbara Smith, Alice Walker, Gloria Anzaldua, Cheri Moraga, Audre Lorde, Sweet Honey in the Rock, John Coltrane, Sarah Vaughn, Nina Simone. Countless women I have loved and who have loved me.
With regards to my blog writing: an “ex” did me two favors. The first was gifting me a collection of King’s work. The second was keeping a copy of Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh’s Peace is Every Step in her bookcase. Reading both radically changed this deconstructionist’s heady, cynical life. Having said that, I like to think that I arrived at this place of a commitment to nonviolence and engaged Buddhist practice through the influence of the Panthers, Fanon, Malcolm X, and others.
Now, my five-year-old is my main inspiration. Every day she teaches me how much work I have to do. There’s nothing more humbling than having someone who has been on earth for merely 1800+ days tell you that you don’t know anything about nothin’. Just plain dumb.
If you had one superpower that could change the world, what would it be?
My superpower would be this: I would make men cry simply by showing them the hand. Why this power? Because I suspect that much of the world’s violence can be attributed to the fact that too many men are unable to cry, to live from the heart, to be vulnerable, to be tender.
What genre do you write in, why?
I primarily write nonfiction, though I suspect this is a cop-out. I don’t know – I’m kind of with Arandati Roy on this: these are not the times for fiction.
I disagree, there is always a time for Fiction!
Alycee, thank you for spending this time with us! We enjoyed you.
Alycee Lane is an Oakland, California-based writer and blogger.
A graduate of Howard University, Alycee studied English literature and later obtained her Doctorate of Philosophy from UCLA, where she specialized in African American literature and culture of the civil rights and black power movements. From 1995 to 2003, she served as an Assistant Professor of English at the University of California, Santa Barbara, after which she obtained her Juris Doctor from UC Berkeley (Boalt Hall).
Alycee has also written a number of scholarly and other articles on subjects ranging from the Black Panther Party to mitigation evidence in death penalty cases to climate change. In 1993, she was awarded the Audre Lorde Quill Award from the Black Gay and Lesbian Leadership Forum for the essays and interviews that she produced for BLK, a news magazine dedicated to the African American gay and lesbian community, as well as for her work as editor of Black Lace, the first ever African American lesbian erotic magazine.