Do It Revolutionary Style

Brownie Harris/FOX

Brownie Harris/FOX

The Revolutionary War and the Colonial era in general have been on my mind lately. First, the new Fox show Sleepy Hollow debuted a few weeks ago. This delicious supernatural thriller, inspired by Washington Irving’s classic Headless Horseman tale, feels like a brand new horror flick each week. And I hate horror flicks. But the story lines make it so hard for me to stay away each Monday night. The flashbacks to the Colonial era and the Revolutionary War set my historical geek heart a-flutter. Then, there’s Nicole Beharie playing the lead character Abbie Mills. I absolutely adored her in the film 42, where she portrayed Jackie Robinson’s wife Rachel. I can’t wait to see how the sparks flying between Abbie and Ichabad Crane will play out in the long run.

Then, I read the novel Her Wicked Sin by Sarah Ballance a few weeks ago. (Yes, I purchased it.) When I saw that this historical romance was set during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, I couldn’t download it fast enough. This author’s use of dialogue to establish the historical setting was awesome. I thought the first half of the book read like a dream. But when the heroine Lydia mentioned Tituba in the text, bells went off in my head: there are some African-American romances and women’s fiction set during this time period too! Let’s talk about them. (Yes, I purchased all of these books too.)

Midnight by Beverly Jenkins
ISBN: 978-0061547805
midnightThis historical romance novel is set in New England during the American Revolutionary War. It is based on the real life female spy Lady Midnight, who provided crucial information to help Colonists. Lady Midnight’s true identity was so well hidden back then that nobody can say for certain who she really was. So Beverly Jenkins figured that meant Lady Midnight could have been African-American and proceeded to write Midnight.

 

 

 

I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem by Maryse Conde
Translated by Richard Philcox
ISBN: 0-345-38420-2
titubaIf you are familiar with Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible, then you already know something about the real life Salem Witch Trials and the enslaved woman Tituba who was one of the accused witches. But did you that there was also a retelling of the story written from Tituba’s perspective? Thanks to Maryse Conde (and to her husband Richard Philcox, who translated the original text from French to English) there is. This was one of the very first books I was assigned to read in college. It blew my mind. It is more literary women’s fiction. However, there is a bit of romance in the very beginning of the story. It is worth the read. The hero left a strong impression all those years ago. My classmates and I all wanted to know where we could find a man like that.

 

Windward Heights by Maryse Conde
Translated by Richard Philcox
ISBN: 1-56947-216-5
winward_heightsI can’t talk about Maryse Conde and I, Tituba without mentioning Windward Heights. It starts in the middle of the Cuban War of Independence, right before the United States entered the fight. In the United States, we know these hostilities as the Spanish-American War. (Yeah, I know that was in 1898. But it’s still colonists fighting for their independence from another country, right?) This book is about a low-born man who returns to his childhood home, only to find that the girl he loved in his youth is married to the rich guy who lived next door. Sounds a lot like Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, doesn’t it? Well, that’s exactly what it is. Windward Heights IS Wuthering Heights, except that it’s set in the late 19th and early 20th century Caribbean, Heathcliff is African and Cathy is a mulatto. Intrigued yet? Good, go read it. (For the record, I hated Wuthering Heights and, to this day, have yet to finish the book. But I loved Windward Heights. Like a lot “loved it”.)

Have you already read any of these books? What did you think of them? Are there any Revolutionary War or Colonial era African-American romances or women’s fiction titles that I missed? Please share in the Comments.

 

What I’m Reading
369th_InfantryRight now, I’m working on my own historical romance set in the 1920s. The hero is a World War I veteran who served with the 369th Infantry, also known as the Harlem Hell Fighters. I wanted to know more about the 369th Infantry’s experiences during the Great War since I’m still getting to know this character. Through my internet surfing, I stumbled upon Harlem’s Hell Fighters: The African-American 369th Infantry in World War I by Stephen L. Harris. Ohmigod, ohmigod, ohmigod, this book is soooo good. Not only does Harris give you a detailed account of this Infantry from its beginnings as the Seventh Regiment of the New York National Guard, but you get an unexpected lesson on the early history of jazz in New York City as well as the city’s Draft Riots during the Civil War. My historical geekiness includes all things African-American musical history and the Civil War. I practically drooled as I read about the formation of their military band whose members included James Reese Europe, Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake. (Hardcore old, old school jazz fans know what I’m talking about.) This book is turning out to be an excellent resource for a number of historical events outside the scope of the Harlem Hell Fighters. I’m only halfway through it right now, but I highly recommend it.

Destiny’s Surrender & So You Think You Can Write Contest

destiny_surrenderWhat an exciting week in the world of African-American historical romance! I have some exciting updates for you guys. First, the new Beverly Jenkins historical romance came out last week. It is the California-based follow-up to Destiny’s Embrace. It features the second Yates brother Andrew.

I devoured Destiny’s Surrender in two nights. I’m not sure how to talk about this latest heroine Billie without dropping spoilers. This young lady is not your typical romance heroine…which you will learn the second you open the book. In first page, first paragraph, first sentence, this woman is literally screaming, “Hello, world! This is me.”

It is hard for me to pick just one favorite historical romance heroine. But I think Billie would rank pretty high on that list. Who would you pick for your historical romance heroine(s)?

 

For those of you who follow the world of publishing, you already know that Harlequin’s annual So You Think You Can Write has begun. I was so excited to see the submission from Piper Huguley under the Love Inspired Historical line. The title to her inspirational African-American historical romance is The Preacher’s Promise. It is about an Oberlin College-trained teacher in Reconstruction era Georgia and the local preacher. You can read chapter 1 here: http://www.soyouthinkyoucanwrite.com/manuscripts-sytycw-2013/the-preachers-promise/#comment-166463

If you like it, help Piper move on to the next round by posting a comment. You can learn more about Piper Huguley on her blog All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes: http://piperhuguley.com/about/
(Disclaimer: I know Piper in real life. I had no input on her contest submission. My first time reading it was today, on the Harlequin blog, after she submitted it.)

That’s all I have until next week. I’ll be talking about the new Sleepy Hollow television show and Black romances and women’s historical fiction set in the Colonial era.

The Georgia Sea Coast

This past weekend, hubby and I went out to Jekyll Island for the 8th annual Shrimp and Grits Festival. It was held on the grounds of the historic Jekyll Island Club Hotel. This Club is where the Vanderbilts, the Rockefellers and their friends came to play during the turn of the century, also known as the height of the Gilded Age. The first transcontinental telephone call was originated there. And a secret meeting was held there in 1907 to resolve a nationwide economic panic. That result of that meeting was the foundation of the country’s Federal Reserve system.

I was impressed with how well organized the event was. The smooth shuttle service between the event parking (on the island’s airport runway) and the Hotel was an unexpected surprise. The food selections were delicious. My favorite was the BBQ Shrimp & Grits bowl from The Half Shell on The Pier restaurant. Think chili powder seasoned shrimp on a bed of sautéed peppers, tasso ham and creamy stone ground grits. But you all didn’t come here to read about our eating adventures, so let’s get to the historical stuff.

(Note: if you do want to read more about our eating adventures, check out http://teamtyson.wordpress.com for a dish-by-dish account of our Georgia-to-Montreal road trip last year.)

As we were getting ready to leave the Festival, my husband asked if I wanted to look for the slave ship site again. In 1858, one of the last known shiploads of “imported” Africans had unloaded in secret on Jekyll Island. This landing was illegal as the importation of Africans into the United States had been banned in 1808. We had tried unsuccessfully to locate this spot on our previous visits. But this time we were successful.

20130921_141638The landing site is located within what is now known as the St. Andrew’s Picnic Area. (Be warned, this place was crawling with what looks like conjoined lightning bugs. They swarm your car as soon as you stop to park. They seem to especially have a thing for white cars. They don’t bite, but they are annoying.) There is a memorial structure commemorating the landing with 3 markers that detail the story of the Wanderer, what happened to the 407 Africans who survived the trip, and the fate of those who orchestrated the illegal shipment. I was not happy to find out that I had been admiring the house of the man behind this whole event a mere 20 minutes before.

 

There is a similar historical site on neighboring St. Simon’s Island. Igbo Landing is where a shipment of enslaved Ibo tribesmen, native to Nigeria, came ashore in 1803 after being purchased in Savannah to the north. However, the locals say that the Ibo stepped ashore and then marched into the water with the intent of walking back to Africa. Some say they all wound up drowning. Others say that rose up in the air and flew back home. However, this particular landmark is inaccessible as the site is now in the backyard of a private home in a gated subdivision.

African-American Women’s History in the Area

Susie King Taylor was born along the Georgia sea coast. She later became a nurse during the Civil War in the Savannah and Hilton Head area. You can read about her life in the area and her wartime adventures in her autobiography Reminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33d United States Colored Troops, Late 1st S.C. Volunteers. Her two marriages are mentioned in passing. Literally, a sentence is dedicated to each husband within the entire text. Someone needs to read fill in the gaps with a nice historical romance story.

More information on The Wanderer and the last shipload of enslaved Africans to arrive in the United States: http://www.goldenisles.com/african-american-heritage/wanderer

More on Jekyll Island: http://www.goldenisles.com/area-history-overview/jekyll-island

More on African-American historical landmarks in the area: http://goldenislesnews.blogspot.com/2011/02/african-american-heritage-in-brunswick.html

More on Susie King Taylor: http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/history-archaeology/susie-king-taylor-1848-1912

 

Historical Romance Week September 15-21

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It is Historical Romance Week over on Evangeline Holland’s blog: http://evangelineholland.com/blog/.

Emma Barry and Rebecca Paula have shared some interesting essays so far. And then there’s some crazy girl named Kaia on there talking about African-American historical romance. Anyway, be sure to check it out and post a comment or two.

Denise McNair, Carol Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, Addie Mae Collins, and Sarah Collins

“We could not let little girls be killed…” – Diane Nash, SCLC

4_Little_Girls50 years ago today, on September 15, 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama, a bomb erupted outside of the 16th Street Baptist Church, killing four African-American girls who were in the basement bathroom preparing for the youth Sunday program. This event breathed new life into the Civil Rights movement and was the spark that ultimately led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

Denise McNair was 11 years old.
Carol Robertson was 14 years old.
Cynthia (Morris) Wesley was 14 years old.
Addie Mae Collins was 14 years old.

I take the time to write out their names because many have fallen into the habit of calling them “the four little girls.” For the longest time, I didn’t know who these young ladies were. I only knew that four little girls had been killed in a bombing. It wasn’t until I saw Spike Lee’s documentary “4 Little Girls” that I knew anything about their individual lives.

We need to know their names. We need to remember their names. We need to speak their names. And, we need to know the stories behind the names in honor of their parents, siblings, family members and friends who have had to endure life for these last 50 years without their loved ones.

However, I’d like to see a fifth name attached to this significant event. This name I had not heard before today:

Sarah Collins. She was 12 years old.

Sarah_CollinsWho is Sarah Collins? She was the fifth girl who was in the bathroom that Sunday morning. She’s the one who survived. Intrigued? Here’s the link to her story: http://sarahcollinsproject.com/the-story-1.html#.UjYlN06Dnfw.twitter

I think it’s a shame that it has taken this long for Sarah Collins’s (now Sarah Collins Rudolph) part in the story to get any attention. Her omission from the dialogue reminds me of why I take the time to write about African-American women’s history each week. There’s a tendency to focus on the sad and unfortunate aspects of the history. I think it’s time to focus on the triumphs. Putting those triumphs into a romance novel is a good way to do that.

Image of Sarah Collins taken from the The Sarah Collins Project website.

Countdown to the Next Beverly Jenkins novel: California

Happy Birthday, California!

California became the 31st state on September 9, 1850. In Beverly Jenkins’s historical romance novel Destiny’s Embrace, I learned that the word “California” comes from Queen Calafia, ruler of a fictional paradise populated by Black Amazons. (Sounds a lot like the Wonder Woman origin story to me.) So that means the state is named after a black woman. Who knew?

In honor of today being California’s “birthday,” I decided to highlight the published African-American historical romance stories and women’s fiction set in the state. You didn’t think Destiny’s Embrace and Destiny’s Surrender were the only ones, did ya?

Kissing The Captain by Kianna Alexandra. http://authorkiannaalexander.com/  ISBN: 978-1466208377. A sweet novella featuring an African-American heroine and a Spanish sea captain hero. Set in 1879 California. Available in paperback and ebook formats.

The Preacher’s Paramour by Kianna Alexandra. http://authorkiannaalexander.com/  ISBN: 978-1475034875. A sweet novella featuring a sassy African-American heroine and a preacher hero. Set in 1880s California. Available in paperback and ebook formats.

(I believe that Kianna is working on 1-2 more stories set in late 1800s California.)

Dark Sun Rising by B.L. Bonita. http://www.bonitasromance.com/dark-sun-rising.html  ISBN: 978-1-61921-163-6. An erotic interracial western novella set in an 1800s California mountain town. Available in paperback and ebook formats.

Virgin Soul by Judy Juanita. ISBN: http://www.judyjuanitasvirginsoul.com/book/ . Historical fiction set in 1960s San Francisco. A college-aged woman joins the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Available in hardcover and ebook formats.

 

These were the only African-American historical romances that my helpers and I could find. If you know of any others, please post the title and the author in the comments.

Countdown to the Next Beverly Jenkins Novel: Happy Labor Day!

Countdown: 3 More Weeks Until the Destiny’s Surrender Release!!!!

I started re-reading Destiny’s Embrace by Beverly Jenkins to prepare for the release to its follow-up Destiny’s Surrender in 3 weeks. With it being Labor Day yesterday, I thought reading about a heroine who is a housekeeper as timely. Mariah Cooper cleaned up what sounded like a nasty house, washed the laundry, cooked meals and made clothes for a living. As I read on, I started wondering about how African-American women contributed to the Labor Movement. Boy, was I surprised with what I found after a quick search of the internet:

Atlanta Washerwoman strike of 1881 – in the same year that my alma mater Spelman College was founded in Atlanta, GA, African-American women shut the city down. The majority of the washerwomen in the city at that time were African-American. They organized themselves into a union and went on strike to demand fairer wages. In other words, nobody in town had clean clothes to wear unless these women were paid adequately. (Or they could always wash their own clothes themselves.) The mayor had to get involved to resolve the dispute. In the end, these sistas were paid what they were worth. Read more about this event at: http://www.aflcio.org/About/Our-History/Key-Events-in-Labor-History/Atlanta-s-Washerwomen-Strike

The Ladies’ Auxiliary of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters –  considered the backbone of the first organized African-American labor union, these ladies’ contributions made this union’s organizing efforts, which included the 1963 March on Washington, a success. This auxiliary gave its members experience in community organizing and legislative lobbying that laid the groundwork for the mid-century Civil Rights movement and their input in the development of future legislation. Read more about these ladies at:  http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=2737

Lucille Green Randolph. Digital ID: 1808225. New York Public Library Lucille Green Randolph – Asa Philip Randolph, organizer of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and of the 1963 March on Washington, was one of the most well-known African-Americans in the early 20th Century Labor Movement. What people don’t know was that he received very little pay from his organizing efforts. His wife Lucille Green Randolph was the breadwinner in their household. A widowed Howard graduate and former schoolteacher when they met, her success as a Harlem hairdresser made it possible for Mr. Randolph to focus on his organizing activities. She was one of earliest graduates of Madame C.J. Walker’s New York beauty college. She catered her services to the elite ladies – both Black and White – of New York City. Her husband was once labeled “the most dangerous Negro in America” by the Federal government. Lucile Green Randolph had the honor of holding the title of the “second most dangerous Negro in America.” Read more about Mr. and Mrs. Randolph at: http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/bday/0415.html
Image Courtesy of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture/the New York Public Library

Hello, aspiring authors of African-American historical romance! Surely you can find some inspiration from these highlights. Readers, can’t you see love happening in 1881 Atlanta or between a socialite hairdresser and a firebrand aspiring civil rights activist in 1914 Harlem?