No alternative: The Preacher’s Promise comes from historical facts

 

Amanda is based on wonderful teachers like Mary Peake who I wrote about in the spring.

Amanda is based on wonderful teachers like Mary Peake who I wrote about in the spring.

Before I return to discussions about Reconstruction Era Georgia in September and October, I want to finish out the month by defining some approaches writers may take in telling a historical story. Some people have asked for some clarification about the historical events that take place in The Preacher’s Promise. I use the blog to discuss these historical events and people and readers are always welcome to look through the archives for the historical background of my stories.

There are several types of historical fiction (and romance may come into play in any of them). I’ll discuss three of them here.

Alternative history: This type of historical fiction is relatively new, but is gaining popularity in books like The Boleyn King series. The author, Laura Anderson, has taken on the historical problem of Henry VIII’s desire for a son. Her series is based on a big historical what if: What if Anne Boleyn did have a son? Since poor Anne lost her head for not giving Henry VIII a son, we know this didn’t happen, but Anderson has crafted a trilogy (and gotten a lot of sales), for writing stories based on the alternative way history might have turned out.  No, I’m not jealous of her series. It’s a brilliant idea I wish I thought of first….

Factual Fiction: This is where The Preacher’s Promise would be appropriately placed.  There are people/events in the story that are a part of the historical record:

Reconstruction-when the Union determined to punish the Confederacy after the Civil War by putting various states under martial law and allowed some of the formerly enslaved into positions of authority. Reconstruction lasted from 1865-77, but this primary shift of power occurred mainly in the first six years or so.

  • Teachers of various races who came south to teach the enslaved after the Civil War
  • Skilled workers like blacksmiths who were able to purchase their freedom
  • Formerly enslaved African Americans who made advances in politics and leadership during Reconstruction
  • White southerners who tried to help the enslaved population after the war (a.k.a. scalawags)
  • A farm utopia like Mont Blanc in Mississippi where the formerly enslaved received assistance from white southerners and banded together to farm and make a way in the world.

I, like many writers of this type of fiction, will take these historical events, create characters and situations who lived in these times and make fiction out of it. I chose to create a romance out of it featuring African American characters who live Christian lives.

Fictional Fact:   I hope to write some of these stories one day.  This is the type of fiction where a writer takes a real life event or person and uses fiction to explain the events in their story.  Writers may create conversations or composite characters, but the life events remain the same.  The movie Lincoln falls in this category, for instance.  A lot of the books in the “wife of” genre belong here as well—stories that are told from the point of view of the wife of some famous person.  The Paris Wife, written from the point of view of one of the wives of Ernest Hemingway, is a book example.

The Preacher’s Promise is no alternative history.  Understand, we’ve been taught a particular narrative in school about African American history. For some, it is hard to buy into the belief that in some ways, 1866 looked pretty promising to the formerly enslaved.  Three things have to be kept in mind about that narrative: first, that narrative is the product of scholars who harbored certain ill feelings toward the enslaved; second, the formerly enslaved were largely illiterate and could not tell their own stories; and third, new scholarship has emerged since we were in school.

Overall, it is the job of the historical writers to keep readers firmly in the place and time they have chosen. That is my intent.  I hope that people who are reading my “Home to Milford College Series” will choose to continue reading to see how Virgil and Amanda will accomplish something great. We will next visit them in The Mayor’s Mission in 1868 as more challenges come their way.

More inspiration for the Hero of The Preacher’s Promise–William Golden(ing)

There are no pictures of William Golden, so I'll just put Virgil here instead....:)

There are no pictures of William Golden, so I’ll just put Virgil here instead….:)

At various times since last October, I’ve spoken about my various inspirations for Virgil Smithson (the hero of The Preacher’s Promise).   Another real life figure that inspired my character (blacksmith, preacher and emerging political figure) is William Golden (also known as Golding). After the Civil War, in Liberty County, he inspired the formerly enslaved, to believe that gaining an education meant everything to the forwarding of the race, even as he himself, Golden, was illiterate. This desire to encourage others  has always been an interesting phenomenon since I’ve known several illiterate individuals  across my life.  How does an individual like Golden still encourage people to attain the the education that he didn’t?

Golden was a member of the constitutional convention of 1867-68, where measures befitting the Radical Reconstruction were written into a new constitution after the war. He was also a member of the Georgia House of Representatives between 1867-70. In 1870, he transcribed a letter to the American Missionary Association to ask them for a teacher. They sent Eliza Ann Ward, a New England teacher who had previous teaching experience in Savannah and Hilton Head. He, along with his family, donated land to the building of a school– Dorchester Academy– on the grounds of the old family plantation. They were willing to share the land that had been deeded to them by relatives of the Gaulding family–the former people who had owned them.

His few years of political power meant that the academy had a solid basis from which to grow on in the early years. Ward left within a few years’ time, due to poor health. In 1874, they attempted to get her back but although she showed a fondness for the people in the area (she sent clothes), she did not return. The AMA arranged for a minister-principal to show up and take Golden’s place. Even after the replacement came, Golden did continue to obtain extra resources for the school. Golden was willing to go the extra mile for education for others.

The political machinations of expelling African Americans from the Georgia State House began after 1870, and he was no longer in office. Golding fades from history after that, unfortunately. I suspect that when the tides of Reconstruction changed back to favor Democrat rule, there was some kind of campaign to omit the histories of the short-lived political careers of Negro men who tried to bring some order to the lives of the formerly enslaved. Dorchester Academy, built in Golden’s Grove,  existed as an educationalentity into the 1940’s.  The buildings still exist as a museum and community service centers.

One biographer, according to the Liberty County History Society, has Golden working as a janitor in Savannah toward the end of his life. Is that a defeat or did Golden have the ultimate victory of making a stand for education? The website says he almost certainly has descendants in Liberty County. Does Golding’s legacy in the insistence of education live on in them? I hope so.