What is “The Washerwomen’s War”?

atlanta-s-washerwomen-strike_medium-1Atlanta, GA –  Summer 1881

When Mamie Harper arrives to substitute teach for the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary school, she witnesses terrible injustices with some of the older students who are washerwomen. Mamie’s upbringing as the daughter of the most famous Black suffragette in America means that she cannot be silent. She takes it upon herself to help the washerwomen find their voice and protest their mistreatment.

Reverend Gabriel Harmon is the summer pastor at one of the most influential Baptist churches in Atlanta. He’s shocked to see that the young woman who rejected his suit the year before is a new teacher in Atlanta. Determined to change her mind, he gets swept up in the washerwomen’s protests for better pay. When these two collide over these explosive events during a hot Atlanta summer, only one side will be able to win the battle. As they clash, they learn that there is another war, the war of the heart, that’s worth winning as well.


The year 1881 was a hallmark year in Atlanta history. Yet, the two real-life events that impacted Black women are rarely discussed in history classes. So, I wrote “The Washerwomen’s War” to figure out if these two events, the founding of Spelman College and the Black Washerwomen’s Strike, had anything to do with each other. I believed that they did. I decided to tell the story of the intersection of these two events from the point of view of an illustrious outsider, Mary Frances “Mamie” Harper, who was the real-life daughter of the famous Black Suffragette and poet, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper.  Mamie is a young woman who is coming to figure out who she is in the world a part from her famous mother. When she re encounters a man she had the potential to fall in love with, but rejected him based on his profession, love is bound to happen.

“The Washerwomen’s War” will be out next week.  In the meantime, here’s a brief excerpt and an article where you can find out more about the strike. As usual, there will be more resources (and updates) at the end of the story when it is published in Daughters of A Nation

Milford, Georgia—June 1881

The one thing I swore I would never become is a minister’s wife. That’s not me.  Those women are saints. And sinners. There are some, like Mama Manda, who are nice, kind and gracious. The epitome of womanhood. Others are mean, like snake’s venom, ready to spit it out on some poor woman in the name of the Lord.

So when I wanted to kiss a man, I made sure that he was not a minister. Why start something that you can’t finish? No purpose in it, as far as I could tell. That meant that during my time at Milford College, it was only the males who were studying to become teachers who had a chance with me. Not the preacher ones. That made the choices less difficult.

There weren’t that many, mind you. Just some. Enough so that a young woman like myself could get a notion of what I wanted for my husband. And now I know.

To receive an e-mail when Daughters of A Nation releases follow this link:


To learn more about the strike:


Time away

GH consolation prizeI’ve just returned from Alabama where I attended my first Reader’s Luncheon as an Attending Author. Even though, I was not fully prepared for the extent of the swag (all I had was a $50.00 gift card to offer.  I felt such a kinship with the Little Drummer Boy) it was a wonderful time.  Many of the readers I spoke with spoke about how meaningful it was to have an afternoon to themselves away from their every day lives.  A number of them spoke of children or an aging parent to care for.

I have been thinking about the need for self-care in the first blog post of the month.  So this time, in June, I’m thinking  how important it is to schedule time away from the cares of life.  Believe me, scheduling that time is something that I still am working on.   I’m not really sure how I should answer. What do I do to “get away” from the pressures of my life? While I think about it, feel free to let me know what how  you “get away” in the comments.

It’s necessary to find time for yourself–another crucial aspect of #selfcare.


The need for self-expression

This little light 2

“This Little Light o Mine,” to me, is a spiritual song about the determination and value of self-expression.

The timing of my post on Mother’s Day coincides with my monthly post about self-care. I made this vow at the beginning of 2016 to dedicate one of my two blog posts per month and remind myself about how important self-care is.  Today, I don’t have any one example in mind. Instead, as I’m wrapping up work on The Songbird’s Stand, I’m reminded of how many women in our lives have been silenced by the pressures and expectations of their lives.

Some may be mothers, or some may be caregivers of others. Their voices may be silenced by these life pressures. Tillie Olsen, in the aptly named book of essays, Silences, estimates that the literary work of only 1 in 12 women has been published and put forward in the world. Granted, Silences was written some time ago, but I believe that this statistic is still accurate and probably is even higher for women of color.

So if you have a woman in your life, and she doesn’t have to necessarily be a mother, one way to gift her is to make sure that she has the time and space to help her find her way to self-expression—whatever it is. Everyone deserves the opportunity to be creative.  Women find themselves without this opportunity a lot of the time, and society as a whole, needs to hear more of these voices.

The need to find a voice is a theme of The Songbird’s Stand.  I’m working hard on bringing it to you soon.  Thank you for reading my blog and please, keep watching this space!

Why aren’t you watching Underground?

12924591_1292654777415820_7618641586492328670_nOk. I’ve been quiet about it long enough. Now, here comes the question. Why aren’t you watching Underground? My sincere apologies to those of you who do not get WGNA to watch it—June and the DVDs will be here soon.  However, for the rest of you, I hope that you use the comments to post your answer. Call it market research on my part as a historical fiction author who writes about African American characters. I’m also asking because I really want to know.

Underground is not a “slave movie”.  I’m a little weary of people saying that they are tired of seeing “slave movies”. I do not count Django because Tarantino made it (don’t get me started on him). Twelve years a Slave is relatively recent but that was released years ago now.  So unless you have the old Roots miniseries on a continuous loop (and I sympathize if you wish to forego watching the remake), I’m not sure what people mean when they say they are tired of watching “slave movies.” So if this is a standard response of yours, I would appreciate the time that you take to clarify. Thank you.

If these are other reasons people don’t watch a show that features the enslaved (since that is what we say now) population as full-fledged complex individuals with agency and who make choices, I need something more. I need specific reasons. I need evidence. This is a show we have needed for a long time and now it is here. It needs support. Now.  Not when it’s over and it’s on DVD or Netflix.  Now.  Even if the producers choose not to make a Season 2, then we to show support for stories that show the complexity of the horrific and impossible situation of enslavement.

Sometimes I wonder if watching what people endured during this horrible time makes some realize all that someone in their past endured.  Maybe that’s too much pressure, or too much to take in at once. Maybe you feel as if you aren’t doing your part in making your own history.  Maybe you realize that the horrors that they show are only a fraction of what really happened. Well, getting the ratings of this show to rise is a way to help with visibility. It is a way of showing the powers that be in television, movies and yes, in publishing (where I do have a stake) that we want to see more shows like this. We need to see more movies where the enslaved make choices for themselves and their families, like Ms. Ernestine. We need to read more books with wide distribution that show emerging, brave heroines like Rosalee. If you feel guilty for not living up to their bravery, fine. However, let’s not miss this moment in time where, by giving a show an hour a week, that portrayals like this can increase and not diminish.

So, I’m just going to say it.  The enslaved lived these lives of inhumane horror so that you can sit in your living room or bedroom each Wednesday at 10 p.m. and watch television. You can go get your bowl of popcorn or sit with your phone in your hand and live tweet to friends. You can post your outrage on Facebook. All in comfort. All because they took it all on. For you. For all of us.

So watch.

Toni Cade Bambara, celebrating her genius

April is always a very busy time at my college. It’s the time of year when the students begin to apply all they have learned during the previous months.  Founder’s Day for the college happens in April. But another annual event takes place every April and that is the conference20160331_073549_resized that celebrates Toni Cade Bambara.

I have seen how it is far too easy for the reading public to forget Black Women Writers. So, about 15  years ago, my college created this annual two-day conference surrounding the works and
legacy of Toni Cade Bambara who wrote amazing short stories, novels and essays. She was also a documentarian, an accomplishment I can only admire from afar.

So I take this post in April to celebrate this author originally born Miltona Mirkin Cade, who was also a professor at the same college where I teach. Her works are a rich writing legacy that we all should explore.  I celebrate her because she was taken from us much too soon at the young age of 56. If you want to know more about the writer that inspired and awed other Black writers like Toni Morrison, you should read any of her works and celebrate her singular point of view.

Happy 3rd Birthday blog and an Easter promise


This week I celebrate my blog’s third birthday. Everything was so new back then in 2013. I was a newly minted Golden Heart nominee who had to have a landing page for potential publishing offers. I still had my mother then, and I was determined to make my place in the industry, and had lots of hope that I would succeed.

Three years later, my mother is not here and the realities of the publishing world have recently presented themselves with the closing of Samhain, leaving the continuation of my “Migrations of the Heart” series in limbo.
So I begin my third year of the blog at a bit of a crossroads. It’s the crossroads that I believe, in this current climate, all historical authors find themselves. Should I write in a different time period? Write new characters of different ethnicities? Call my inspirational writing a failure and write sweet instead? Write contemporary? My conundrum is not unusual or singular, but what will be different is how I plan to resolve it.
I will have to make some decisions about my 2016 that I didn’t realize I would have to make. I may not make all of the appearances I thought I would, which is one reason why I don’t have that as a page as part of this blog. That’s ok. But the one thing I’ll stick with, and that is the mission of this blog: to keep telling the stories of history that people have not known before. In whatever work I do, I’m going showcase the humanity, spirit and resilience of African American people. Yes, that means as one New York Times bestseller author once told me, “Some audiences are smaller than others.” However, with the selection of The Preacher’s Promise as the reading book club selection at Spelman College, I have hopes that other Historically Black Colleges and Universities and institutions will be more receptive to what I do in the future. I have hope that my historical approach will not whither away, but will continue to spread and grow.
So, at this Easter holiday and blog birthday, I’m renewing my promise. My faith and hope in my task remain strong. The approaches may change and be different, but the end goal with always be the same. After all, a large purpose of story is to see the humanity in one another. My promise is to make that purpose hold firm, strong and true.

The Fisk Jubilee Singers–how Kickstarter worked in the 1870’s

nypl.digitalcollections.510d47df-b73a-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.001.rI’m having a fine time writing about March Simpson and how she got her man. Still, I’m reminded that I have not yet posted about what exactly inspired this story. I’ve mentioned my family’s singing group, The Gift of Song, and how they sang spirituals, (African American folk songs), during the 1970’s and 1980’s. They were far from the first to do so, however.  In the wake of the Civil War, many of the enslaved wanted to hear no more of the spiritual music that they composed as they toiled in bondage. I made that reluctance part of the character of March’s father, Virgil.

Some understood that the songs reflected folk art. In Dark Midnight When I Rise, Ella Sheppard, one of the founding members of Fisk Jubilee Singers said, “The slave songs were never used by us then in public. They were associated with slavery and the dark past, and represented the things to be forgotten.” But a lot of people understood the songs were folk art and began to collect them.

One of the early collectors was George White, a teacher at a newly established school in Tennessee–Fisk. The school was having a difficult time raising funds to continue operation. A recently arrived teacher, George White, had heard some of the students singing and formed a group. They started traveling locally in Tennessee and raising funds for the school singing European-styled concert songs. As encores though, they would sing one or two of the spirituals. White noticed how those songs were received and proposed that they create an entire repertoire of the spirituals to sing the songs publicly on a regular basis. Some in the group didn’t want to. But what made the idea more palatable in the minds of many was the wedding of the spirituals with the European approach. By doing this, they created something different that took the spirituals to a new place.

It took some time for the group to grow into a worldwide phenomenon, but they did.  The Fisk Jubilee Singers endured a lot of bigotry and suffered indignities during their travels. But they also touched a lot of hearts. Their music let everyone know of the  humanity of the enslaved. By singing, they preserved the songs and they captured the genius of those unknown composers and lyricists of the music. They also built Jubilee Hall on the campus of Fisk University.  You can click the link to see it.

I have linked the tracks of The Gift of Song singing “Ride the Chariot” and “Don’t be Weary Traveller” here.

When my character, March Smithson is called upon to make a sacrifice for Milford College, she resists. But when mysterious new teacher Julian Lewis asks her, how long will she be able to hold out?  The Songbird’s Stand releases this spring.