The African-American Historical Romance Hero

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African-American historical romance authors have a unique challenge in crafting the Black male hero. These alpha males must be subjected to dehumanizing experiences at some point to keep the story true to the historical settings: slavery, bounty hunters, lynch mobs, segregation, and limited employment opportunities just to name a few. Even if the hero in the historical romance is not African-American, he still has to navigate these obstacles to get to the Happily Ever After (HEA) with the woman he loves. It is a wonder that authors are able to find ways for their male characters to keep their dignity and still be sexy.

My current work-in-progress is set during World War II. Right now, I’m working through how to make my hero feel and act like a “man” in a world where there are limited job opportunities (even with the war production boom) and even fewer meaningful assignments given to Black men who enlisted in the military at that time. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to live during those times. Even Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play in Major League Baseball, faced court martial for refusing to give up his seat and move to the back of a bus in what is now Fort Hood, Texas. (This was in 1944, a decade before Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott.) Robinson was member of the decorated 761st Tank Battalion that distinguished itself during the Battle of the Bulge. Robinson never made it to Europe with his Battalion due to the court martial.  

The movie “42”, which depicts how he broke the color line in baseball, shows glimpses of how hard it was to maintain his dignity while trying to provide for his family and be a loving husband. (Sidenote: I would love see to a romance novel that fictionalizes how he and his wife Rachel got together. The chemistry between those two was burning up the screen.)

However, it is possible to show these men as loving providers despite the horrible realities of their times. My favorite example is the Nikki Giovanni short story in the Best Black Women’s Erotica anthology entitled “Bring On The Bombs: A Historical Interview”. In it, Giovanni describes how her African-American hero comforted and protected his woman with a prejudiced mob outside their home, threatening to bomb it for her Civil Rights activism. Woo-hoo!

Feel free to share your favorite stories and/or scenes that show how our men could be “men” in the face of prejudice and tragedy.

Works Referenced:
Giovanni, Nikki. (2001). “Bring On The Bombs: A Historical Interview.” Best Black Women’s Erotica (anthology). Cleis Press:  San Francisco, CA.

Vernon, John. (2008). “Jim Crow, Meet Lieutenant Robinson: A 1944 Court Martial.” Prologue Magazine. Spring 2008. Vol. 40, no. 1. Retrieved from: http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2008/spring/robinson.html

Cover image used courtesy of Prologue Magazine, Quarterly of the National Archives and Records Administration, retrieved from: http://legacy.stripes.com/baseball/article7.htm

What Is African-American Historical Romance?

This summer, I began compiling a list of all the African-American historical romance novels I could find. This was not a solo project by any means. A special shout out goes to Beverly, Erica and Shantal, three very special ladies who spent their free time surfing the internet for all things African-American historical romance and Black women’s fiction in general. Together, we have found 154 titles so far.

However, I was surprised by the types of questions that came up as we created this list:

  •  Should we include titles written by non-African-American authors?
  •  What if the hero is African-American but the heroine is of a different background?
  • And, what if the neither the hero nor the heroine are African-American but the author is, as in the case of Francis Ray’s Regency The Bargain, Vanessa Reilly’s inspirational Regency Madeline’s Protector and Mallory Malone’s Devil’s Angel set in medieval Ireland?
  • What if the historical portrayal of African-American women is controversial, like The Help, or even offensive?
  • Which time periods are considered historical?
  • What if the novel is a love story that was not “historical” at the time it was written, like Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God?

These questions forced me to consider exactly what type of book is considered “African-American Historical Romance.” For example, Beverly Jenkins’s historical titles are no-brainers. She is an African-American author writing about African-American heroines and African-American/ multicultural heroes. But for the other scenarios, it’s not so clear cut. I personally prefer stories that depict an African-American woman falling in love. And, I would consider a setting as late the Black Power Movement to be historical. But there are so many other good books that fall out of that narrow definition.

What is your definition of African-American historical romance? What types of books would you like to see featured in this space?

Happy Birthday, Ida B. Wells-Barnett!

image of Ida B. Wells

Image Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Born in Mississippi weeks before the Emancipation Proclamation was announced. Teacher. Investigative journalist. Newspaper owner. Anti-lynching crusader. Suffragist. Early leader in the Civil Rights and Women’s Rights movements.

At age 16, Ida B. Wells (July 16, 1862 – March 25, 1931) lost her parents and youngest brother to yellow fever. She dropped out of school to support her surviving 5 siblings, keeping them out of foster homes. She later was an investigative journalist who documented lynchings in the South. This work resulted in her escaping Memphis for Chicago for fear of death threats. She lectured all over the United States, Caribbean and England. This is the late 1800s and the early 1900s.

How Ms. Wells met her husband is a historical romance novel waiting to happen: he was the attorney who represented her in a libel suit she filed against 2 Black Memphis attorneys. Will somebody please write this story?!

Reading Mrs. Wells-Barnett’s story reminded me a lot of Katherine Wildhorse, a character in the novel Topaz by Beverly Jenkins. What other characters remind you of Ida B. Wells-Barnett? Who wants to see her story in a romance novel?

Resources:

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ida_B._Wells
http://people.duke.edu/~ldbaker/classes/AAIH/caaih/ibwells/ibwbkgrd.html
http://www.lkwdpl.org/wihohio/barn-ida.htm

National Parks Service (Wells-Barnett residence in Chicago): http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/civilrights/il2.htm
Guide to Ida B. Wells Papers 1884-1976 (University of Chicago): http://www.lib.uchicago.edu/e/scrc/findingaids/view.php?eadid=ICU.SPCL.IBWELLS
Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells, ISBN: 978-0226893440

Hello, African-American Historical Romance Loving World!

Thank you so much for checking out this space devoted to African-American women’s history and the romance novels that celebrate this history. The title “Aren’t I A Heroine?” is a play on the speech given by Sojourner Truth at the Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio in 1851.  Actress Kerry Washington performs “Ain’t I A Woman” speech

I evoke that speech here because the African-American historical romance sub-genre seems to be so small, with only a few titles coming out each year. I want to be able to see myself as a historical heroine too. I want to be able to read more stories of the women who looked like me in the past, and did extraordinary things in the midst of difficult times, and the men who loved them. By starting this blog, I hope to find other like-minded readers and writers aspiring to write those stories.

The planned posting schedule is going to be Mondays with occasional Alerts as books are released and on dates of historical significance.

 

Link to Kerry Washington performance of “Ain’t I A Woman”: http://www.history.com/shows/the-people-speak/videos/aint-i-a-woman#aint-i-a-woman

Wikipedia article on “Ain’t I A Woman”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ain%27t_I_a_Woman%3F