Truth is Stranger than Fiction

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.

In this 99th year of the destruction of Black Wall Street, I am thinking about ways to improve my fiction, poetry, and other writings to provide a better historical context and learning experience for the next generation.

I hope I can adequately contextualize it in a way that clearly communicates what today’s world was like for those who lived it.


Be Sure to Pick Up Your Copy of my Black Historical Fiction Series, The Stella Trilogy and to leave a review on Amazon. Click Here.

The Black Plague

Steppers Delight Giclee On Canvas by John Holyfield

They treated them like The Black Plague.

This walking pestilence ravaging the Earth.

Walking all proud-like and powerful

all royalty-like and purposeful

infecting generations of people with its culture, music, dance, and cornrolls.

This was a virus that needed to be controlled.

They could not have this thing infecting people with all this hope.

COVID-19 is terrifying, but empowering the people was worse

so, the powers that be raised their glasses, smiled and solidified the oath.

 

The first phase was overt

strip them of their names, rape their wives, and remove their clothes.

Next, shackle them together and dismantle their dignity.

The vaccination was so far working.

They became Mammies instead of Mothers

and Negroes instead of Kings.

 

But the Black Plague continued to spread

continued to influence

and shift the direction of the Earth

there was no restraining the wind

out of its affliction grew the epidemic

of black excellence

building communities, gaining wealth, and reestablishing identity.

The so-called powers had to take their power back

and so, they infected their neighborhoods with crack.

Mass incarcerate them

“Jump Jim Crow” them

redline them

school-to-prison pipeline them

hide their history

hide their truth

miseducate them and kill the youth.

Put your knees on their necks

and stick your knives in their backs.

But none of it worked.

 

It was a secret deeper than White Supremacy

more in-depth than the witchcraft of stolen identity

deeper than unarmed black men bleeding in the streets

more frightening than charred bodies hanging from trees

more detailed than this apparent sickness was the truth

these people they called plagues were not plagues at all

they were Prophets

and healers of the Earth.

 

It was no wonder the more they were afflicted,

the more they grew.

SugarCoated and Springtime

They get tired of hearing it.
Ain’t nobody got to say it,
I know that they get tired.
Tired of these distractions in brown-colored skin
waking up from Valley’s
with muscles and tendons
all conscious-like.
Uncovering the blood in the American Flag—
Tired, tethered, and intoxicated
with his story.
Unraveling the color of bigotry on a beautiful glass,
Smeared fingerprints and fallen stars like
Why they keep sittin’ in?
Between our comfort and a hard place.
America,
This be some kinda hard place
for brown-colored skin
in the springtime.

Strange fruit popping up again on trees,
‘cept Nina ain’t here to sing us a song.
After 400 years
songs just don’t work anymore.
Tired of these guns accidentally going off,
Landing somewhere in my purse.
somewhere in my womb.
Somewhere in my future between lipstick and foundation.
I’ve got to warn my sons
about accidental guns.
Generational homicide got me on my knees praying
the badge
ain’t got his name on it.
Let’s be accurate about it.
Will I be left with the fragmented
pieces of my husband’s shoes
between our front porch and the living room floor?

Will my kiss linger long enough to bring him home tonight?
Or will I suffer a widow’s fate of mistaken identity?
After all, these brown, tan, bronze, and mahogany-colored
skins all do look the same…
Don’t they?

I’m afraid of your guns.
They don’t know the difference
between friend and foe–
or maybe, they do.
Funny how bullets be mistakin’ themselves for judges
that ain’t got names on them.
They say a gun
ain’t got a name on it.
Why are they sugar-coating it?

‘Cause people get tired of hearing about all this black…
All this oppression,
All these curses,
All this power like,
Why we won’t pour sugar on top of these bodies?
Get ’em up off the street.
Don’t want our bullets to get stirred up, ya know.
Getting up outta beds,
loading themselves into chambers
and taking walks at night,
in the afternoon, and especially in the morning,
when it’s springtime.


Fun Fact: I first wrote this poem four years ago (almost to the day). Reposting because it is still fitting for today’s climate. You can find it in my I am Soul poetry collection. 

Black History Fun Fact Friday – The Short Family

This is a real-life case of living beyond the colored line. It starts when a black man named O’Day Short and his family moved to a racist area of Fontana, California, in 1945. Here’s a bit of history behind Fontana:

  • The Ku Klux Klan established its headquarters in Fontana.
  • KKK Grand Wizard George Pepper and White Aryan Resistance (WAR) leader Tom Metzger claimed Fontana and the Inland Empire as their California Eastern Territory for White Supremacy.
  • Hells Angels Biker Gang originated in Fontana
  • Hells Angels and Nazi Low Riders (NLR), flourished in the city of Fontana, with no consequences from the Fontana P.D.
  • Many incidents of discrimination and hate crimes were unsolved and poorly investigated

Fontana has a long history of racism and discriminatory policies, so it is no surprise that blacks were not allowed south of the area. The saying went: “Base Line is the Race Line.” Southern Fontana can be best described as a “Sun-down town,” towns blacks were not allowed after dark. When the sun went down, any black person found in a “Sundown Town,” risked lynching. Read more about Sundown Towns in an older post here.

Carol Ann and Barry Short, along with their parents Helen and O’Day Short, died in a suspicious fire on Dec. 16, 1945, after crossing the color line in Fontana. | Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

When O’Day Short, his wife, and two children moved onto land in an all-white area, neighbors threatened them to leave that neighborhood and occupy one of the ghetto neighborhoods where the town allowed blacks to live.

One interesting thing about the Short family is that they were fair-skinned and many believe this is how they got to purchase the property in the first place. O’Day moved his family into the half-finished home. It is said the man who sold him the land where the house was being built did not know he was black.

When people complained, O’Day got a visit from the sheriff to leave the property. The Sheriff offered to buy the house back, but O’Day refused. The sheriff warned that the “vigilante committee,” will not be pleased. They recorded the visit by the Sheriff in the Sheriff’s office in San Bernardino. According to the report, Short described the threats to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I). On December 6, 1945, Short also reported the threats to the Los Angeles Sentinel, an African American Newspaper.

On, December 16, 1945, not even a full month after the Short’s moved in and ten days after the reports, the Short home exploded in fire, the family inside.

Helen Short, 35, and her daughters Barry, 9, and Carol Ann, 7 died.

O’Day, 40, lived long enough to be taken to the hospital. A month later, on January 22, 1946, he also died.

They have linked the cause of the fire to an oil lamp O’Day was lighting when the tragedy occurred. The interesting thing about these reports is they didn’t mention that the Shorts were black, not in 1946 or later when the story resurfaced.

The NAACP hired an arson investigator later to investigate the story. The investigator reported that the kerosene lamp was found and almost intact, determining the fire was set, from the exterior.

I decided the Short Family would be the subject of this week’s fun fact because of the limited information that can be found on them. It was many years later before the NAACP launched their investigation and people even knew their story.


Read more Black History Fun Facts here.

Read  Stella: Beyond the Colored Line, my historical fiction account of what life was like for blacks beyond the colored line here.

The 1619 Anniversary: 5 Things people still get wrong about Slavery

There is much more to be added to this list but these five are good points. Black History Fun Fact Friday returns to the blog this week. We will be revisiting some basics. Specifically, the End of Chattel Slavery and Reconstruction.


“In August 1619, the first ship with “20 and odd” enslaved Africans arrived on the shores of Virginia. Four hundred years later, we look back at this moment as the start of an enduring relationship between the founding of the United States and the unconscionable exploitation of the enslaved.

In a sweeping project published by the New York Times Magazine this month exploring the legacy of slavery, Nikole Hannah-Jones wrote, “[The enslaved] and their descendants transformed the lands to which they’d been brought into some of the most successful colonies in the British Empire. … But it would be historically inaccurate to reduce the contributions of black people to the vast material wealth created by our bondage. Black Americans have also been, and continue to be, foundational to the idea of American freedom.”

 

>>Keep Reading Here<<

Immigrant Children and Black Senators Introduce Anti-Lynching Bill

There’s a lot going on. The situation of immigrant children being separated from their parents locked away in cages, and “lost” is a very serious and sad situation. It amazes me that a country that can lock children in cages and hang people from trees are celebrating freedom today. A Walmart has even been turned into a shelter housing undocumented children separated from parents in Brownsville, Texas. Walmart’s being turned into detention centers and camps was talked about years ago but people said they were just conspiracy theories.

In the midst of this, there is an increase in racist behavior toward Blacks. It seems that every week someone is calling 911. It’s not just “BBQ Becky” or the woman who called the police on the group in Oakland but 911 calls are being made every day. Videos of racial profiling by white police and White Americans have gone viral. A Black girl was selling water without a permit, a white woman assaulted a Black man who “did not belong at the pool,” a Black boy accidentally mowed some of his neighbors lawn and an 89-year-old Black woman was forced to urinate in public after being denied the use of the bathroom at a Circle K gas station. 

Lynchings are also taking place regularly, even though no one’s talking about it. It is happening so much that Congress’s three African-American senators introduced a bipartisan bill Friday to make lynching a federal crime. “The Justice for Victims of Lynching Act of 2018 notes that during the first half of the 20th century nearly 200 attempts to pass anti-lynching legislation failed to gain support from the Senate despite urging from seven sitting presidents.”

What they won’t say is that Lynchings didn’t stop there.

The body of Frederick Jermaine Carter, 26, was found in 2010 hanging from an oak tree in the predominantly white North Greenwood area of Leflore County, Mississippi, Otis Byrd’s body was found hanging from a tree in 2015, and on April 18, 2018, the mutilated bodies of two young African-American men, Alize Ramon Smith and Jarron Keonte Moreland, were found in a pond near Moore, Oklahoma. A woman was discovered hung near a Walmart in College Park, Georgia on May 14. And a man was found near Atlanta University Center on April 27. (Essence also listed 5 additional attempted Lynch cases.) Many of these cases are deemed suicides. That’s for the people who do not know any better.

…and the myriad of unarmed Blacks being shot and killed daily which are now being deemed modern-day lynchings.

“The tragic shooting deaths of 17-year old Trayvon Martin in 2012 and 18-year old Michael Brown in 2014 reawakened the nation to the epidemic of killings of unarmed blacks by private citizens and law enforcement officers. Sadly, the shooting of unarmed blacks seemingly continues unabated despite the numerous nation wide street protests, town hall meetings, and pledges from politicians and law enforcement agencies to address this systemic problem. According to the Washington Post, “Although black men make up only 6 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 40 percent of the unarmed men shot to death by police in 2015. What is more, the Post’s analysis documents that black men were seven times more likely than white men to die by police gunfire while unarmed. Whereas in 2012, Trayvon Martin was literally the poster child for unjustified killings of unarmed blacks, today there are a litany of black victims (Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Tamir Rice to name a few) that can fill that role.” (Source: 21st Century Lynchings)

READ MORE ON THE ANTI-LYNCHING BILL HERE.

 

New lynching Memorial Evokes Terror of Victims

Visitors to the new National Memorial for Peace and Justice first glimpse them, eerily, in the distance: Brown rectangular slabs, 800 in all, inscribed with the names of more than 4,000 souls who lost their lives in lynchings between 1877 and 1950.

Each pillar is 6 feet (2 meters) tall, the height of a person, and made of steel that weathers to different shades of brown. Viewers enter at eye level with the monuments, allowing a view of victims’ names and the date and place of their slaying.

As visitors descend downward on a slanted wooden plank floor, the slabs seemingly rise above them, suspended in the air in long corridors, evoking the image of rows of hanging brown bodies.

The memorial and an accompanying museum that open this week in Montgomery are a project of the nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative, a legal advocacy group in Montgomery. The organization says the two sites will be the nation’s first “comprehensive memorial dedicated to racial terror lynchings of African Americans and the legacy of slavery and racial inequality in America.”

READ MORE HERE