AFRICAN PULP: The Spear in Racist Pulp Fiction’s Heart!
Throughout Africa, storytelling has always been an intrinsic part of society, used to recall historical events, impart wisdom, debate and communicate messages from the divine.
Storytellers – called Djele, Sanusi, Babalawo, Iyanifa, Okomfo and other titles, depending on where, on the continent you go – are revered and are usually also skilled in spiritual and healing practices as well.
Tales of powerful heroes, megalomaniacal villains, sorcerers, witches and fearsome creatures abound in African folklore, thus I was not surprised at my recent discovery – thanks to Paul Bishop, author and mastermind behind the Fight Card brand of Fight Fiction books – that Pulp magazines, created by, and about, African heroes were highly popular across the continent in the 1960s through the 1980s.
Sold under the brand names African Film and Boom, these magazines – called photo comics, or “look books” – were illustrated with stunning photographs instead of drawings, giving them the uniqueness, creative flair and do-it-yourself spirit common throughout Africa.
With heroes like the Tarzanesque Fearless Fang (Boom) and the “African Superman”, Son of Samson, children and adults alike waited eagerly every month for latest edition to hit the newsstands.
The most popular photo comic magazine was The Spear (African Film), which featured Lance Spearman, the super-spy / detective whose coolness James Bond and Derek Flint would envy. The Spear drove a Corvette stingray, sported a panama hat and well-tailored suits with a bow tie and smoked expensive cigars. And in true Pulp fashion, he had a bevy of beautiful women at his beck-and-call.
Lance Spearman pursued the bad guys with zeal, outwitting their conspiracies, kicking much ass with his African martial arts and saving the day…all in one issue!
These popular Pulps – a portfolio of black and white photos, complete with speech balloons, narration boxes and all the “bam-pow” sound effects that a kick and a quick upper cut to the jaw makes in any comic book.
Unlike the popular Pulps of the Western world, however, which were rife with racist tropes of uncivilized, uneducated, spear-chucking cannibals, or damn-near naked noble savages, with objectified, ample body parts, Lance Spearman was sharp, stylish and sophisticated.
Even the jungle stalking Fearless Fang was intelligent, witty, brave and well, cool.
Combining Western references with a distinctly African cultural identity, these amazing African Pulps presented a critique of colonialism and a significant variation in how the genre classically figured normality and otherness.
And they were entertaining as hell!
Published first by publisher Drum Publications in Nigeria in the early 1960s and later also published in Kenya and Ghana the photo comic had a powerful and lasting influence in fostering postcolonial pride and identity.
Its combination of extreme violence, melodrama, romance and glimpses of the glamorous life preceded and influenced the Blaxploitation craze in American cinema in the 1970s and its use of inventive DIY tactics to overcome budget constraints influenced the booming Nollywood film industry.
“Ok, you’ve told us about the photo comics, but how, and why, were they created?” You ask? “
Well, Drum Publications of Nairobi, Kenya – tired of the clichéd racist images of Black people in contrast to the heroic images of white soldiers and superheroes in Western comics – decided to create comic books that would appeal to Black men. They began photographing black men in adventures that were designed to appeal to the Black African population.
Drum would buy stories and then send the scripts to Swaziland, where a photographer would takes pictures of a cast of Black actors. They would then send the photographed strips to London, England, where the magazines were printed. Finally, the photo comic magazines would be distributed in West, East and South Africa.
The Lance Spearman title was the most popular publication, with circulation figures estimated at 100, 000 in West Africa, 45,000 in East Africa and 20,000 in South Africa. In fact, Lance Spearman had a greater circulation in Kenya than any of the local daily newspapers at that time.
The writers of these look-books were Black Africans, who were paid $65 – equivalent to approximately $508.00 today – for every script they produced.
Expected in the scripts were lots of fistfights and the bad guys always losing in the end.
The readership of these photo comics included men, women, boys and girls from small rural towns to sprawling urban cities; from the barely literate to highly educated professionals.
The man, who played the character of Lance Spearman, was Jore Mkwanazi, originally employed as a “houseboy” in Durban, South Africa, scrubbing the floors of an apartment for $35 a month and as a musician, playing the piano in a nightclub for $1.50 a night, when photographer Stanley N. Bunn discovered him and decided he had the tough, cynical, sophisticated face that was needed for The Spear. In the role of the super-spy, Mkwanazi earned $215 a month.
Here is the original Drum Publications information, found in every issue of their photo comic magazines:
Drum Publications (E.A.) Ltd
P.O Box 43372
Editor: J. Singh
Printing and Packaging Corporation Ltd
P.O Box 30157,
But the story of photo comic magazines does not stop here.
In fact, it is just beginning.
In the summer of 2014, I will publish my first photo comic book, The Siafu: Revolution.
The Siafu is about escaped prisoner, Jamil Brown, who suffers a virus-induced myostatin deficiency that gives him enhanced strength, speed and endurance. Jamil is hunted by his makers, while gathering others like him to help fight against the corrupt system that made him.
For those of you who don’t know, siafu are army ants that, while small, are powerful and – in large enough numbers – can bring down an elephant.
So, be on the lookout for this amazing new graphic Pulp science fiction novel in a few months.
Get ready for The Siafu.
Get ready for Revolution.
Make it a REAL “Black” Friday!
Buy Black Speculative Fiction!
Also, try out these Blacktastic Books you will absolutely love:
Imaro by Charles Saunders – A masterwork from the father of Sword and Soul. Imaro is the definition of great Heroic Fantasy.
The Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler – Widely considered Butler’s best work, this is an incredible story of a dystopian future and a heroine with hyper-empathy.
Immortal by Valjeanne Jeffers – The first in a series of exciting books that takes place in the world of Tundra. Jeffers deftly combines Science Fiction, Horror and Romance in telling the story of Karla, a shapeshifter who fights the forces of evil of which she dreams.
Wind Follower by Carole McDonnell – This epic fantasy romance explores race, ethnicity, and imperialism in a beautiful – and sometimes brutal – ancient African setting.
A Darker Shade of Midnight by Lynn Emery – Mystery, Horror and Romance combine to give you this masterpiece that is a first in an incredible series. LaShaun Rousselle – the protagonist, who uses her paranormal abilities to solve the mystery of who killed her cousin and what lives in the woods on her family’s land – is one of the most interesting heroine’s in fiction.
Order of the Seers by Cerece Rennie Murphy – This thrilling tale of discrimination, love, retribution, lust for power and the great potential that lies dormant in us all follows the life and struggle of Liam and Lilith Knight – a brother and sister duo who are hunted by a ruthless and corrupt branch of the U.N., which seeks to capture and exploit Lilith’s unique ability to envision the future.
Hayward’s Reach by Thaddeus Howze – a series of short stories told by Mokoto, the last survivor of an unexpected cataclysm. Mokoto, even in his current state of in-humanity, learns what it means to be truly human.
Steamfunk edited by Milton Davis and Balogun Ojetade – This is the definitive work of Steamfunk – a philosophy or style of writing that combines Black culture and approach to life with that of the steampunk philosophy and / or steampunk fiction – featuring fifteen masterfully crafted stories by fifteen amazing authors.
Woman of the Woods by Milton Davis – A powerful Sword and Soul tale, set in Davis’ intriguing Uhuru universe, first experienced in his seminal series, Meji. Woman of the Woods draws us into the world of demon-hunter, Sadatina and her “sisters”, a duo of twin lionesses who aid her in her battle against the vicious Mosele and their demon allies, who seek to destroy her people.
Redeemer by Balogun Ojetade – This is an edge-of-your-seat adventure that is both gangster saga and science fiction epic. A tale of fatherhood and of predestination versus predetermination. An entertaining mash-up that Science Fiction, Urban Fantasy and Urban Fiction fans alike will enjoy.
If you are interested in finding more authors of Black Speculative Fiction check out Black Speculative Fiction Reviews.
WE’RE HERE: Ending the Search for Black Fandom
Recently, I read an excellent – and somewhat saddening – post on the Rude Girl Magazine blog entitled A Search for Black Fandom.
The author laments: “A lot of times when I watch things, and am seeking out internet reactions and discussion, I wish I had access to other black opinions. Sometimes fandom is like watching a movie with a room full of white people – when someone does something kinda shady and racist, you want to lean over and be like ‘did this motherfucker just really,’ but then you realize you’re the only black person there so you have to weigh whether or not you’re in the mood for bullshit, because that’s what you’ll get by bringing this up with white people.”
The author thought that she was all alone in the nerdiverse. That there were no other Black people into Science Fiction, comic books, cosplay, Steampunk and Dungeons and Dragons and she felt crippled by this: “It’s no secret that fandom can be racist. Like, really, really racist…if you, as a black person, want to enjoy something – anything – in most popular fandom, you kind of have to decide not to bring up problematic aspects of the source material if you’re not ready to break out the bingo card for yet another tragic game of ‘No That’s Not Racist Toward Black People, Let Me Tell You Why,’ during which white people from all corners of the globe will gather to attempt to invalidate your thoughts, feelings and experiences.”
I am constantly reminded of just how important the work I and the other members of our authors, filmmakers and artists collective – State of Black Science Fiction – do really is. We tell the stories that need to be told – stories of heroes that have been ignored; history that has been forgotten…or denied.
Steamfunk, Sword and Soul and Rococoa are subgenres of fiction, fashion and film that convey the heroes and history of Africa, African-America and, indeed, the entire Diaspora. There are also many great tales of science fiction, horror, action-adventure and the paranormal with heroes of African descent.
I have been a guest and panelist at several small and major fandom conventions and I – along with my friend and author Milton Davis – am the curator of the popular Black Science Fiction Film Festival and The Mahogany Masquerade and I am happy to say that there is a multitude of Black fans of speculative fiction and film and the numbers are growing rapidly and immensely.
However, every time I get comfortable, a blog, an attendee at a panel discussion, or a fan at a convention will say “I thought I was the only one reading, doing and / or writing this,” or “If I had known Black people were writing this kind of stuff (or making these kinds of movies), I would have gotten into this a long time ago.”
Statements like that tell me that there is a lot more work to do and that there are a lot more people to reach.
I want my sister at Rude Girl Magazine to know that she need lament no longer and that she is certainly not alone.
We’re here my dear sister.
Below is a list of great recent fandom events with a strong Black presence. Most are annual events, so put them on your calendar and be sure to attend.
Black Speculative Fiction Film Festival, August 2012 – Auburn Avenue Research Library; Atlanta, GA
OnyxCon 4th Annual Black Age of Comics Convention, August 2012 – Southwest Arts Center; Atlanta, GA
State of Black Science Fiction Panel, August 2012 – Dragon*Con; Atlanta, GA
The Mahogany Masquerade: An Evening of Steamfunk and Film, October 2012 – Alien Encounters (an annual Black Fandom Symposium); Atlanta, GA
The Afrofuturist Affair Museum of Time 2nd Annual Charity & Costume Ball, November 2012 – Philadelphia, PA (an annual costume ball and afrofuturism presentation / performance)
Black Science Fiction Film Festival, February 2013 – Georgia Institute of Technology; Atlanta, GA (an annual film festival featuring fantasy, science fiction and horror films by and about people of African descent from around the world); Atlanta, GA
Multiculturalism in Alternate History Panel, February 2013 – AnachroCon; Atlanta, GA
Octavia E. Butler Celebration of the Fantastic Arts, March 2013 – Spelman College; Atlanta, GA
12th Annual East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention (ECBACC), May 2013; Philadelphia, PA
State of Black Science Fiction Panel, June 2013 – SciFi Summer Con; Atlanta, GA
State of Black Science Fiction Panel, June 15, 2013 – Wesley Chapel Library; Atlanta, GA (upcoming)
IT AIN’T A $7 CUP O’ JOE, BUT…When Science Fiction & Fantasy meet the mean streets!
A few nights ago, late night talk show host and comedian, Jimmy Kimmel, conducted a taste test to see how people would react to the new $7 cup of Costa Rica Finca Palmilera coffee that Starbucks is introducing.
However, instead of Costa Rica Finca Palmilera, each participant was presented with two cups of coffee and they had to determine which one was regular coffee and which one was “super-premium”. Unknown to the participants, each cup was poured from the same pot of regular, cheap coffee.
Time and again, the participants claimed one cup was better than the other – how one was richer; one creamier; one much more bold. Finally, one man – who looked like he just stepped off the set of Sons of Anarchy – said that both cups of coffee tasted exactly the same.
Later, that same night, I watched a documentary about Street Lit. Also called “urban fiction”, “hip hop fiction”, “gangsta lit” or “ghetto lit”, Street Lit is a mega-popular genre, especially among readers in their teens and 20s. In the 40-plus years since Robert “Iceberg Slim” Beck released Pimp, the audience for so-called “street literature” has remained faithful, making bestsellers of such successors of Beck as Donald Goines, Omar Tyree, Teri Woods, Vickie Stringer, Sister Souljah and ‘Relentless’ Aaron.
Sessalee Hensley, a renowned fiction buyer for Barnes & Noble, says that urban lit now dominates the shelves of African-American fiction: “We have 25 or so new urban titles a month, versus about one of the literary titles.”
With provocative titles, such as Black and Ugly and Section 8: A Hoodrat Novel, and with covers featuring half-naked women, flashy cars and big guns, these books stand out on the shelves. And standing out equals huge sales.
Around the country, street literature not only outsells novels by such esteemed Black authors as Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker, but also popular genre fiction such as The Da Vinci Code. Owners of independent black bookstores say they must either stock street lit, or by a ton of candles for when the lights are turned off.
However, even with the extraordinary success of street lit, the genre and its authors are still not respected as “real” authors and are, in fact, highly disrespected. In the documentary, entitled Behind Those Books, poets, authors and activists spoke passionately for or against this booming book industry.
In the documentary, Terry McMillan, author of the bestselling novel, Waiting to Exhale, says of street lit, “The fact that they are glorifying things that happen in our communities that shouldn’t be glorified – being a pimp, being a ho, you know? How much we can get away with it is seen as something to be applauded almost.” She goes on to say – “There will be something sexual to look at and it’s always a black woman. And it insults the hell out of me because it’s almost as if our breasts and our behinds are for sale…In the end [of reading a street lit novel], I want to know, am I a better person? Do I feel better about my son, my mama, my daddy, my brother, my neighbor? Now we are turning on ourselves. THAT’s what I hate about that shit [street lit].”
While street lit is known to be riddled with grammatical errors, misspelling, inconsistencies in the stories – and other issues that scream “Get a damned editor!” – Many authors of street lit actually write well and some even strive to be original in their work. In earlier posts, I discussed how Black people love science fiction and fantasy; and, obviously, we love street lit. Thus, it had to happen – street lit / science fiction and street lit / fantasy mash-ups.
Of course, urban fantasy is already wildly popular, however, to my surprise, some “urban science fiction” novels are pretty good reads too.
Yes, they are set in the ‘hood, but, as anyone who has lived in the ‘hood can attest, anything and everything happens there. If aliens launch an attack on the earth, I guarantee it will start in the ‘hood. One of my favorite films, Attack the Block, deals with this very subject, with hilarious – and terrifying – results.
Zetta Elliot’s Blacknificent young adult urban fantasy novel, A Wish After Midnight, is about 15 year-old protagonist, Genna, who resides in the projects of Brooklyn. Genna’s mother has a hard time making ends meet and to make matters worse, Genna’s brother is involved in gang life. To escape the stresses of ‘hood life, Genna regularly visits the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, where she finds herself time travelling after making a wish at a fountain.
Genna and her friend, Judah, end up in Brooklyn during the Age of Steam. They eventually become heroes, fighting for justice and equality in the ‘hood of 1860s Brooklyn during the American Civil War.
Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring is set in 21st century Toronto, which has been barricaded off and abandoned by its rich, predominantly white suburbs. Helpless to defend itself against the oppression of a ruthless drug lord, the city becomes one big…you guessed it…’hood.
Are these works Urban Fiction? Science Fiction? Fantasy? All three? None of the above?
Is Science Fiction Costa Rica Finca Palmilera and Urban Fiction regular coffee? Or, if done well, can they both be enjoyed from the same pot?
It was actually Hopkinson’s brilliant work that inspired me to write Redeemer, an urban fantasy novel set in the future – and the present – ‘hood. The pitch: Sent nearly thirty years into the past as an unwilling subject in a time travel experiment, Ezekiel Cross must save his younger self from the deadly path that forged him into the ruthless killer he is. This edge-of-your-seat thriller is both gangster saga and fantasy epic – “Goodfellas” meets “The Time Machine”.
Will fans of urban fiction love Redeemer? Yep.
Is Redeemer science fantasy, or is it urban fantasy? Yep.
Redeemer is whatever genre or subgenre you want, or need, it to be.
Is Redeemer a cup of “super-premium”, Costa Rica Finca Palmilera, or just a regular Cup O’ Joe? Who cares? It’s rich, creamy, bold and stimulating.
Pick up a cup and enjoy!
THE ORIGIN OF A STEAMFUNK FEATURE FILM
A Story of History, Fantasy and Steamfunk
Rite of Passage is a Steamfunk movie collaboration destined to change the perception of historical fantasy. It’s the tale of the city of Nicodemus, Kansas and the special souls that have gathered to protect it. Based on a story by Milton Davis, Rite of Passage blends history, fantasy and Steamfunk into an exciting action movie that draws you into the mysterious, intriguing – and sometimes frightening – world of Rite of Passage and the even bigger adventure yet to come.
How It Began
In 2011 author Milton Davis wrote a short story entitled, Rite of Passage. The story was about a young black man who was escaping the antebellum South to freedom under the protection of Harriet Tubman. That night the young man had a unique encounter with another man who possessed amazing powers and abilities. Years later he encounters that same man and is recruited to help him. At the end of their adventure the ‘superman’ passes onto the young man a necklace that gives him the powers he first witnessed in his youth. His charge is to use those powers to protect those like him.
Balogun Ojetade read Rite of Passage and was captured by its message. A writer, director, martial artist and admirer of Harriet Tubman, he saw the potential of the story encompassing much more. The young man in the story became the young woman Dorothy and through the imaginations of both Balogun and Milton, the Rite of Passage mythos expanded, introducing new characters and exciting stories.
From Paper to Film
As the story ideas continued to flow, Balogun and Milton’s vision grew from prose to film. Balogun pulled together a skilled and creative team of filmmakers to produce Rite of Passage: Initiation. The purpose of this short film was to give a glimpse of the Rite of Passage world and show the skills of those involved in order to raise funds to make a Rite of Passage feature-length movie.
An Unexpected Proposal
In addition to working on Rite of Passage together, Balogun and Milton are a part of the State of Black Science Fiction Collective, a group of speculative fiction writers dedicated to promoting black speculative fiction. Their first program was held February 2012 at Georgia Tech in partnership with Lisa Yasek, Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies, School of Literature, Media, and Communication. In 2013, the group returned to Georgia Tech, this time for the Black Science Fiction Film Festival, which Balogun and Milton produced. The event was a rousing success; so much so that, when Lisa heard of the Rite of Passage project, she gathered together the creative resources of the university and offered their help with the creation of the movie.
A Unique Story Uniquely Told
Roaring Lions Production, MVmedia and the School of Literature, Media and Communication at Georgia Tech have come together to create a movie that combines the history and spirit of the African American experience with the fantastic foundation of Steampunk to create the first Steamfunk movie. Join us in making history and in telling the stories that need to be told!
Milton Davis is a research and development chemist who lives in Metropolitan Atlanta, Georgia, with his wife and two children. A publisher, author and film producer, Milton is dedicated to bringing diversity to the Science Fiction and Fantasy field. His books and films focus on presenting people of color in positive ways, thereby challenging the stereotypes and misconceptions common in the general marketplace. Find him and his amazing works of Steamfunk and Sword and Soul at his website and at his social media site, which is dedicated to authors, filmmakers and fans of science fiction and fantasy.
RITE OF PASSAGE: The Web
The full moon cast a silver glow upon the leaves that crackled beneath Jake’s heels.
He no longer heard the dogs, or the curses of Master William Jessup’s slave-catchers, so he stopped to rest his weary muscles and catch his breath. “For a short spell,” he thought.
“Welcome to my parlor, said the spider to the fly.”
Jake whirled toward the source of the voice, raising a silver carving knife – still sticky with his former master’s blood – chest high.
The most beautiful woman Jake had ever laid eyes upon stepped out of the shadows. The corners of her full lips were spread in an inviting smile. “I’m sorry, did I frighten you?” Her husky voice revealed a hint of an English accent.
“You obviously ain’t from around here,” Jake said, studying her tall, muscular frame. “You sound like this man who come from England and train me and the other catchers.”
“I’m from London, England,” the woman said. I moved here a while ago. I bought my freedom from…wait…catchers? What did you catch?”
“Runaways,” Jake replied.
“And now, it appears that you are the one who is running away,” the woman said.
“I was the worst catcher ever born,” Jake said. “Every runaway I went after got away.
“They just happened to get away, eh?” The woman snickered.
“My old master got wise to me,” Jake replied. “He decided to make an example of me…killed my wife; my daughter…so I killed him. Been runnin’ since.”
“Well, you are safe here for the night,” the woman said. “The locals are afraid of this forest. They say a terrible beast roams these parts.”
“Then, what you doin’ out here?” Jake asked.
“I love the outdoors,” the woman replied. “Besides, beasts don’t frighten me; men do.”
“Well, this man won’t do you no harm,” Jake said. “My name’s Jake, by the way. Jake Jessup.”
“I’m Tara Malloy,” the woman said, offering her hand.
Jake took Tara’s smooth, mahogany hand in his and kissed the back of it. “Pleasure, ma’am.”
Suddenly, Tara’s hand became a vice around Jake’s fingers, crushing the dense bones as easily as if she was squeezing an egg in her fist.
Jake screamed in agony.
Tara threw her head back as a growl escaped her throat. She snapped her head forward, fixing her maddened gaze on Jake. Her beautiful face had been replaced by what Jake could only describe as the visage of a rabid wolf.
Jake tried to snatch his pulverized hand out of Tara’s grip, but she was too strong and his pain was too great.
Tara yanked Jake toward her. The runaway’s head snapped back from the force as his feet skittered across the dirt and dry foliage.
Jake thrust forward with his carving knife, sinking it deep into Tara’s chest.
Tara staggered backward, coughing as a crimson cloud of ichor spewed from her mouth.
Jake collapsed to his knees. Tara fell onto her back, convulsed once; twice; and then, lay still.
Jake crawled to a large tree and rested his back against it. The pain in his hand and shoulder made it difficult to think; to understand what just happened and darkness encroached upon him, blurring his vision.
“Still alive, eh?”
Jake turned his head toward the voice. Tara stood beside him. He turned his gaze toward her beastly form, still lying where she fell.
“How?” Jake whispered. He wanted to leap to his feet and run, but the pain would not allow it. “What are you?”
“What was I, you mean,” Tara replied. “A werewolf; a child of Eshu; blessed with his gift.”
Tara pointed toward Jake’s wounded shoulder. “Now, you have his blessing, too.”
“I…I’m gon’ turn into a thing like you, now?” Jake spat.
“Maybe,” Tara answered. “You become what your spirit is.”
“I’m gon’ kill you!” Jake bellowed.
“You already have,” Tara said, nodding toward her corpse.”
This was all too much for Jake to bear. He shut his eyes and succumbed to the darkness.
Jake felt soft, warm flesh on his chest. He looked down. Staring up at him was a pretty woman with full, pouty lips and skin the color of sweet cream.
“Good morning, lover,” the woman said, flashing a smile. Her dimpled cheeks accented her beauty.
“You’d better give up that body, Tara,” Jake said, looking at the clock on the far wall of the inn’s room. “You only have a few minutes.”
“Jake, can we talk?” Tara asked, caressing his chest with borrowed fingers.
“Time’s tickin’,” Jake replied.
“I love you,” Tara whispered.
“You what?” Jake pushed Tara’s head off his chest and sat upright.
“I love you, Jake,” Tara repeated.
“We don’t have time for this,” Jake said. “A second past those six hours and this woman dies from shock or goes mad.”
Jake hopped out of bed. His flesh shifted; flowed, as if it was some thick, ebon fluid and then trousers, boots, a shirt and a leather overcoat – all a very dark brown – formed around his naked frame.
“You’re a haint, Tara…a ghost…the undead. I – hell we – hunt the undead. Love ain’t in the cards for us. ‘Sides, you did try to kill me, remember?”
“That was two-hundred forty-seven years ago!” Tara replied.
“Seems like yesterday to me,” Jake said.
A loud, sucking din echoed throughout the room as Tara rose out of the woman’s body. “We’ll talk more later.”
The woman sat bolt upright. She leapt from the bed, locking her gaze on Jake’s broad back. An ebony, wide-brimmed planter hat formed atop Jake’s head. The woman gasped and darted out of the room.
“Creole women,” Tara said, shaking her head. “So…emotional.”
“Let’s go,” Jake said, sauntering toward the door. “Ms. Tubman should have sent that telegram by now.”
On the ground, carriages carried people to-and-from the retail shops, restaurants, inns and houses of ill-repute. In the sky, out of the view of the common people – but not out of Jake’s view – the very wealthy and the military traversed the bustling city by ornate airships and hot air balloons.
“Isn’t it beautiful? Tara sighed.
“Nope,” Jake replied.
“What do you see, then, Mister Doom-and-Gloom?” Tara asked.
“I see smoke…and steel,” Jake answered. “I see children worked to death in dirty factories…widows turned into whores to feed their babies…and we’re still swingin’ from the end of the white man’s rope.”
“Like I said…Doom-and-Gloom,” Tara snickered.
Jake entered the telegraph office. A man sat before each of the three telegraph machines.
“How can we help you fine folks?” One of the men asked, looking up from his machine.
Jake and Tara exchanged glances. Jake took a step back toward the door.
“Oh, don’t worry,” the man said, smiling. “Negro money spends here.”
“That’s not our concern,” Jake said.
“What, then?” The man said, rising from his chair.
“Well, considerin’ my lady friend here is a haint and y’all can see her without her willing it, y’all must be haints, too.” Jake replied.
The man directed his attention to Tara. “You’re a ghost, correct?”
“That’s right,” Tara replied.
“The two other men stood.
“Hmm…ghasts,” Jake said, studying the trio. “Never had the pleasure of killing one of you. Ms. Tubman said you’re fast and can possess a body for days at a time.
“Ah, Ms. Tubman,” The ghast crooned. “After we kill you, we’ll have to pay her a visit.”
“The bloodsuckers got you interceptin’ her messages, now?” Jake asked.
“She has been sending her merry, little band all over to hunt down our kind…your kind!” The ghast spat. That nigger has to die!”
“Give me the message,” Jake said, unmoved.
“I don’t think so,” the ghast hissed.
“Jake raised his palms before his chest. His hands shifted, changing into a pair of ebon broadswords. “I reckon I’ll have to take it then.”
The trio of ghasts exploded forward. Jake leapt forward to meet them.
Jake’s body shattered into a cloud of miniscule, venomous spiders. Each of the thousands of spiders was armed with a scythe-like claw on each of its eight legs. The spider-cloud washed over the ghasts. A moment later, a reformed Jake landed in front of one of the telegraph machines.
The ghasts fell, their tattered bodies covered with an uncountable number of gashes; the organs of their hosts reduced to liquid by the venom racing through their veins.
Jake rustled through the telegrams until he found the one from Harriet Tubman. “Ms. Tubman found the nest.”
“Where to?” Tara inquired.
The sweet-green smell of kudzu permeated the night air. Jake stood high above the ground upon the thick limb of an old oak tree. “Go check it out,” he said, pointing toward a large ranch house an acre away.
“Be back in a bit, lover,” Tara said, blowing him a kiss as she leapt from the limb. She floated toward the house like a feather held aloft in a gentle breeze, landing gracefully at the door of the house. With a quick step, she passed through the closed door as if it was not there.
Jake studied the house. The windows were all covered with a dense, black cloth, preventing any light from getting in or out; a sure sign of a vampire nest.
Tara appeared on the limb. She fanned her hand in front of her nose. “Lord, it smells like the flatulence of a thousand mules in there!”
“Any vampires?” Jake inquired.
“Three,” Tara replied. “It looks like they are getting ready to call it a night.”
“The sun will be up in a couple of hours,” Jake said. “Coffins?”
“No,” Tara answered. “Dirt. The whole house is covered in about two feet of it.”
“These are Old Ones, then,” Jake said. “Good. Kill an Old One and all their progeny die, too.”
Jake leapt from the tree limb. He landed silently below. The hunter knelt at the base of the tree and thrust his hands into the dirt. A moment later, he pulled out a suede sack that was filled with something metallic by the clinking sound of it. “Good old General Tubman,” Jake whispered. “Right where she said it would be.”
Jake tossed the sack over his shoulder and sprinted toward the house. His boots made no sound as they glided across the soft, red, Georgia clay.
Tara floated closely behind him. Upon reaching the house, she stepped through the door. A few seconds later, Jake heard the door’s bolt lock slide back. He tested the door, slowly turning its knob. The door opened.
Jake slipped into the house. He reached into the sack and withdrew a tiny, wedged shape device. The device, constructed of bronze, had a miniscule, amber crystal at its center.
Tara raised her thumb and smiled.
Jake placed the wedge back into the bag and crept forward down the long hallway. He felt something hard beneath the dirt sink under his feet. Iron shackles sprang up around his ankles. Jake transformed into the swarm of spiders to escape, but it was too late. Walls of thick glass sprang up from the floor, slamming into the ceiling with a tremendous thud. Jake was encased in an impenetrable, airtight cube.
The Old Ones stepped out of a room at the end of the hallway and strode toward Jake. Huge grins were spread across their pallid faces, exposing their fangs.
Tara floated toward them.
“I can feel you, darlin’,” the lead Old One – a tall, lean man, with the dress and ruggedness of a cowboy – said. “Well done.”
“Tara?” Jake gasped.
Tara turned her gaze away from Jake and cast her eyes downward.
“My kind are the servants of Eshu, charged with keeping the balance between the light and the darkness…between the Natural and the Unnatural, like yourselves,” Jake said. “My kind are the livin’.”
“Living; dead; undead…some of us are hunters; some prey,” the Old One said. “That – and blood – are all that matter.” The Old One stepped closer to the glass. “Where are my manners? In all of this excitement, I neglected to introduce myself. I am Henrick.” Henrick pointed his thumb over his shoulder. “The rather large gentleman behind me is Malloy and the enthralling beauty is Bloody Jane.”
“Let me out of here, so we can all shake hands,” Jake said.
Henrick laughed. “I like you, hunter. It’s a shame you’ll be dead soon. We could have been friends.”
The vampires walked past Jake’s cell toward the door.
Henrick glanced over his shoulder. “We are heading out for a quick bite. Don’t go anywhere.”
The vampires left the house. Their sardonic laughter cleaved the darkness outside and echoed throughout the house.
“How could you do this, Tara?” Jake spat.
“I am sorry, Jake,” Tara replied. “One day, you’ll understand.”
“Just a few days ago, you said you loved me,” Jake said. “You sure as hell have a funny way of showin’ it.”
“I do love you,” Tara cried. “That’s why I’m doing this.”
“You ain’t makin’ no sense at all,” Jake said.
“Soon, you’ll run out of air,” Tara said. “You’ll die; then, you’ll have an eternity to fall in love with me.”
“That’s haint obsession talkin’,” Jake said. “After a while, every haint goes mad. I thought you had it beat. I reckon it just took you a little longer.”
“I am not crazy, Jake!” Tara shouted. “But, love makes us do crazy things.”
“If I die on account of you settin’ me up, do you really think I’m gon’ ever love you?”
“I…I’m not sure,” Tara sighed. I hope that you’ll…”
“I’ll hate you,” Jake said. “But, if you let me out of here, there might be a chance for us.”
“You’re just saying that to convince me to set you free,” Tara said.
Jake stared into Tara’s eyes. “Have I ever lied to you?”
Tara stepped into Jake’s cell. “I don’t know where the release switch is.”
Jake nodded toward his suede sack, which lay at his feet. “Then persuade those bloodsuckers to tell you.”
Tara closed her eyes and stretched her incorporeal fingers toward the sack. For a moment, her fingers became somatic and she grabbed it. A second later, she was, once again, incorporeal, as was the sack and its contents. She walked out of the cube, taking the sack with her.
Tara floated down the hallway and through the door, leaving Jake alone in his cell.
Jake launched a powerful side-kick at one of the walls of the cell. His heel slammed into the glass. Jake’s foot felt as if it had slammed into the side of a mountain. “Magically enhanced,” he mused. Jake sat, cross-legged, on the floor. He closed his eyes and concentrated on his breathing, slowing it.
A while later, Tara returned. “It’s done.”
Jake’s opened his eyes. “Did you get all the windows? The roof?”
“I was quite thorough,” she replied.
“Tara!” A voice wailed on the other side of the door.
Tara floated to the door. She willed her hand to become corporeal and used it to open the door.
A web of intense light crisscrossed the entrance.
Henrick stood a few yards away from the doorway. Malloy and Bloody Jane stood behind him.
You’ve been a bad girl, Tara,” Henrick said. “What have you done to our house?”
“They’re called Thread Bombs,” Tara replied. Each one releases a thread of light akin to the light of the sun. I planted nearly a thousand around your house to encase it in a web of sunlight.”
“Well, be a dear and turn them off, please,” Henrick said, affecting a warm smile.
“I can’t,” Tara said. “Only Jake can.”
“And why is that?” Henrick asked, struggling to maintain his friendly demeanor.
“Every bomb has to be turned off at the exact same time, or they will explode, blanketing a square mile in their light,” Tara answered. “Jake can become a swarm of spiders and turn off each bomb simultaneously.”
“And how do we know he will do that for us once he is free?” Henrick inquired.
“You don’t,” Tara replied. “But, what choice do you have?” If you set Jake free, he might shut down the web; leave him in that cell to die and you’ll all burn.”
“Quite the fickle one, aren’t you?” Henrick said. “Okay, we’ll bite, so to speak, but know that if you cause the death of three Old Ones and their children, there is nowhere you can run; nowhere you can hide. We will find you…and even a ghost can be destroyed.”
“Duly noted,” Tara said. “Now, where is the switch?”
“In the study,” Henrick replied. “There is a brass statue of a tiger in there. Turn its tail clockwise and the walls will come down.”
“I’ll be right back,” Tara said, vanishing from sight.
“Hurry back, child,” Henrick said, looking skyward. “It’ll be dawn soon.”
A whirring sound rose from beneath Jake. A moment later, the glass walls slid back into the floor.
Jake breathed deeply, welcoming fetid, but cool air into his lungs.
Refreshed, Jake sauntered toward the door.
“We have upheld our end of the bargain,” Henrick said. “Your turn.”
“Bargain?” Jake said. “I don’t bargain with Unnaturals.”
Henrick’s smile faded. “Tara said…”
“Your deal was with Tara,” Jake said, interrupting the Old One. “Not with me.”
“Nope,” Jake replied, picking dirt from his nails.
“You bastard!” Henrick hissed, baring his fangs.
Malloy and Bloody Jane screamed as sunlight cut through the clouds and seared their flesh.
“Turn it off,” Henrick wailed, his skin turning black where the sun kissed it. “Please!”
The Old Ones burst into flames. Their chilling screams rending the night sky until their vocal chords were to charred to emit sound.
Within moments, three piles of gray ash lay near the entrance to the house.
Tara materialized beside Jake. “I hope this makes things right between us, lover,”
“Nope,” Jake replied.
“What now, then?” Tara asked.
“We keep killin’ Unnaturals,” Jake answered.
A broad smile spread across the ghost’s pretty face. “So, we’re still partners?”
“For now,” Jake replied. “We make a good team. ‘Sides, huntin’ can be lonely work. But, I promise you, you ever betray me again and you get the sigil.”
“To use a sigil on a ghost, you have to know that ghost’s real name, Jake,” Tara said. “I never told you – or anyone – my real name.”
“Your ex-husband says different,” Jake said.
Tara’s eyes widened and her jaw fell slack. “My ex…?”
“I met a conjurer a few years back by the name of Laveau,” Jake replied. “She channeled your ex-husband, Kayode, and, boy, did he have a story to tell!”
“What did he tell you?” Tara asked.
“Let’s get out of here,” Jake said. This place stinks.”
“Jake, what did he say?” Tara’s voice was shaky. “Jake?”
The corners of Jake’s mouth curled into a slight smile as he stepped through the web and into the welcoming dawn.
THE ROAD TO NICODEMUS: Black Towns in the Age of Steam!
Black Americans have played a vital role in building this nation. Eager to live and prosper as free people, we have established our own towns since Colonial times. Many of these communities were destroyed by racial violence or injustice, while some just died out. Let’s explore a few of these symbols of freedom, courage, hard work and ingenuity a bit more in-depth.
Fort Mose, Florida
Although this settlement was established well before the Age of Steam, it still merits mentioning, as it is a fascinating place with an even more fascinating history. Established in 1738, Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose – or Fort Mose – was the first free black settlement in what is now the United States and played an important role in the development of colonial North America.
Amid the fight for control of the New World, Great Britain, Spain and other European nations relied on African slave labor. Exploiting its proximity to plantations in the British colonies in North America and the West Indies, King Charles II, of Spain issued the Edict of 1693 which stated that any male slave on an English plantation who escaped to Spanish Florida would be granted freedom, provided he joined the Militia and became a Catholic. This edict became one of the New World’s earliest emancipation proclamations.
By 1738 there were 100 Black men, mostly runaways from the Carolinas, living in what became Fort Mose. Many were skilled workers, blacksmiths, carpenters, cattlemen, boatmen, and farmers. With accompanying women and children, they created a colony of freed people that ultimately attracted other fugitive slaves.
When war broke out in 1740 between England and Spain, the people of St. Augustine and nearby Fort Mose found themselves involved in a conflict that stretched across three continents. The English sent thousands of soldiers and dozens of ships to destroy St. Augustine and bring back any runaways. They set up a blockade and bombarded the town for 27 consecutive days. Hopelessly outnumbered, the diverse population of blacks, First Nation peoples and whites pulled together. Fort Mose was one of the first places attacked. Lead by Captain Francisco Menendez, the men of the Fort Mose Militia briefly lost the Fort but eventually recaptured it, repelling the English invasion force. Florida remained in Spanish hands and for the next 80 years remained a haven for fugitive slaves from the British colonial possessions of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.
The site was abandoned in 1763 when the British took possession of Florida. The residents of Mose evacuated to Cuba and formed a new town, Ceiba Mocha, Matanzas province, considered the hub of African spirituality in Cuba.
The town prospered as the Florida Railroad established a small depot to handle the transport of cedar wood to the pencil factory in Cedar Key and the transportation of timber, turpentine rosin, citrus, vegetables, and cotton throughout the State. In 1890 the cedar depleted and many of the white families moved to Sumner, three miles west of Rosewood and worked at the newfound saw mill established by Cummer and Sons. By 1900 Rosewood had a black majority of citizens.
On the morning of January 1, 1923 Fannie Coleman Taylor of Sumner Florida, claimed she was assaulted by a Black man. Although she was supposedly knocked unconscious for several hours due to the shock of the incident, she was not seriously injured and was miraculously able to describe, in detail, what happened. No one disputed her account, of course and no questions were asked. It was assumed she was reporting the incident accurately.
Sarah Carrier a Black woman from Rosewood, who did the laundry for Fannie Taylor and was present on the morning of the incident, claimed the man that assaulted Fannie Taylor was her white lover. It was believed the two lovers quarreled and he abused Fannie and left. However, in 1923 no one questioned Fannie Taylor’s account and no one asked Sarah Carrier about the incident. The Black community claimed Fannie Taylor was only protecting herself from scandal.
A posse was summoned and tracking dogs were ordered by James Taylor, Fannie Taylor’s husband and the foreman at Cummer and Sons saw mill. The local white community became enraged at the alleged abuse of a white woman by a Black man – an unpardonable sin in a world in which it was punishable for black men back then to even look at a white woman.
James Taylor summoned help from Levy County and neighboring Alachua County, where a large number of KKK members had been rallying and marching in opposition of justice for Black people.
A telegraph sent to Gainesville in regards to Fannie Taylor’s allegations provoked four to five hundred Klansmen, who headed to Sumner at the appeal of James Taylor. They arrived enraged and combed the woods behind the Taylor’s home looking for a suspect. Suspicion soon fell on Jesse Hunter, a Black man who had allegedly recently escaped from a convict road gang. No proof of the escape was ever provided.
The posse confronted Sam Carter at his home and Carter allegedly admitted to helping Hunter escape. The posse forced Carter to take them to the place where he last saw Hunter. When no trace of Hunter could be found the posse turned into an out of control lynch mob, torturing Carter, riddling him with bullets and hanging him from a tree.
The posse continued their hunt in Rosewood. They found Aaron Carrier, cousin and friend to Sam Carter, in bed at his cousin, Sarah Carrier’s house. They yanked him out of bed, tied a rope around his neck and dragged him behind a Model –T Ford from Rosewood to Sumner. They tortured him, beat him with gun butts and kicked him until he lost consciousness they then shot him numerous times.
Levy County Sherriff Bob Walker halted the gunfire before a fatal shot could be delivered, however, when he yelled, “Don’t, I’ll finish the nigger off!” Confident that the sheriff would take care of Aaron Carrier, the posse returned to Rosewood to hunt and kill more Black people.
Sheriff Walker threw Aaron Carrier in his vehicle and took him to Gainesville, to the Alachua County jail, begging Sheriff James Ramsey to hide Carrier from the public and his family until tempers settled down. Sheriff Walker also suggested that Sheriff Ramsey get medical help for Carrier. Sheriff Ramsey brought in two local Black doctors – Dr. Parker and Dr. Ayers – to treat Carrier. For six months, without any knowledge of the public or Carrier’s family, the doctors tending to Carrier’s wounds and returned him to health and strength.
Fuming with anger because they had not found the attacker James Taylor sent Sarah Carrier’s son, Sylvester Carrier, a message “We are coming to get you.”
Unbeknownst to the posse, Sylvester Carrier took heed to the threats and made contact with his Levy County friends who bravely traveled to Rosewood to help avert the planned ambush of its citizens.
After dark, the white posse traveled to Rosewood prepared to kill or be killed. The posse, intoxicated with moonshine and ignorance, was met head-on with resistance from Sylvester Carrier and his friends, however and several of them were killed or injured. The surviving posse members fled, returning to Sumner, leaving their guns behind at the order of Sylvester Carrier and his men. Other posse members lay dead and wounded in Sarah Carrier’s yard.
On January 3rd, many citizens of Rosewood fled into the swamp, hiding out and waiting for the train to come and take them to safety. Others fled to white store merchant John Wright’s home. He allowed them to wait there in hiding until they heard back from Sheriff Walker, who travelled back and forth to Cedar Key, Sumner, and Rosewood in an effort to move Rosewood’s citizens safely out of Rosewood on the 4 AM early morning train, which was conducted by the Bryce Brothers from Bryceville, Florida.
When the posse returned to Rosewood days later to make an assessment of the damages, they vengefully shot and killed anyone who remained in the town – mainly those too ill or too old to
Weeksville, New York
What is now Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, NY, Weeksville was the second-largest community for free blacks prior to the Civil War. James Weeks, a freed slave, purchased a significant amount of land from Henry C. Thompson, another freed slave. Weeks sold property to new residents, who eventually named the community after him. The town thrived, becoming a free Black enclave of urban trades-people and property owners comprised of both Southern blacks fleeing slavery and Northern blacks escaping the racial violence and draft riots in New York and other cities. By the time of the Emancipation Proclamation, Weeksville was already a thriving area with its own doctors, teachers, publishers, and social services.
Freedmen’s Town, Texas: Houston’s ‘Little Harlem’
Over a period of sixty years the town thrived, with churches, schools, stores, theaters and jazz spots lining the cobblestone roadways, earning Freedmen’s Town the nickname of “Little Harlem” by the 1920s.
Unfortunately, the Great Depression caused many residents of Freedmen’s Town to lose their homes. Most longtime residents were forced to move to other Houston neighborhoods, while others stayed in the town, only to watch the community deteriorate.
In 1984, Freedmen’s was designated a historic district.
Blackdom, New Mexico
Dispatched from Ft. Leavenworth for the New Mexico Territory in 1846 to fight the Mexican-American War, General Stephen W. Kearny led a force of 2,500 soldiers in the invasion (yes, invasion – just ask the First Nations in the area). One of those detailed to that force as a wagoneer was a Georgia freedman by the name of Henry Boyer. Upon reaching New Mexico, Boyer fell in love with the vast desert expanses of sky and land, upon his return home, he told his wife and children tales of his adventures in New Mexico, emphasizing the awesome beauty of the land.
One of Boyer’s children, Francis Marion (“Frank”) Boyer, was captivated by his father’s stories. Frank, a graduate of Morehouse College and a teacher, grew dissatisfied with his existence in Georgia and joined groups of other Black men who spoke out against the savageries of the Ku Klux Klan and other Southern atrocities.
Fearing for his son’s life, Henry Boyer suggested that Frank leave Georgia and move to New Mexico to seek a better life for himself and his family. In 1896, Frank Boyer and his friend and student, Daniel Keyes, decided to set out for New Mexico.
Being Black, Mr. Boyer and Mr. Keyes could not travel by stagecoach or rail, nor could they get secure passage on a wagon train. Undeterred, they set out on foot, and walked the entire distance from Pellum (nowadays known as “Pelham”), Georgia to Roswell, New Mexico – a distance of 1,200 miles.
Upon arrival, the two men worked multiple jobs while exercising their rights as freedmen under the Homestead Act, laying claim to acreage in the area of what is now Dexter. The following year, Franks’s wife, Ella Louise and their children joined him, and he was able to secure a loan from a bank to begin homesteading. He dug an artesian well, built a house, and began an active outreach campaign to other Black families in surrounding states, urging them to come to the beautiful desert land in the southeastern part of the Territory and help create the New Mexico Territory’s first Black community.
And they came…more than 300 people from across the country…despite the odds; despite the obstacles. Whites would not sell them train or stagecoach tickets and would not permit them to board in the event that they managed to secure tickets anyway; they would not sell wagons or horses to Black families, despite their ability to pay.
But they came…by cart; on horseback; on foot like the town’s founders…and in 1903, Frank Boyer filed the town of Blackdom’s articles of incorporation.
Unfortunately, in the 1920s, a severe drought led settlers to abandon the town.
In the late 1870’s, as the Reconstruction following the Civil War failed to bring the long awaited freedom, equality and prosperity promised to Black people, along came a white man by the name of W.R. Hill – to black families in the backwoods of Kentucky and Tennessee – who described a “Promise Land” in Kansas. Hill told of a sparsely settled territory with abundant wild game, wild horses that could be tamed, and an opportunity to own land through the homesteading process in Nicodemus, Kansas.
The town site of Nicodemus was planned in 1877 by W.R. Hill, a land developer from Indiana, and Reverend W.H. Smith, a black man. Reverend Smith became the President of the Nicodemus Town Company and Hill, the treasurer. The two founders aggressively promoted the town to the Black refugees of the Deep South. The Reverend Simon P. Roundtree was the first settler, arriving on June 18, 1877. Zack T. Fletcher and his wife, Jenny Smith Fletcher, the daughter of Reverend W.H. Smith, arrived in July and Fletcher was named the Secretary of the Town Company. Smith, Roundtree, and the Fletchers made claims to their property and built temporary homes in dugouts along the prairie.
The Nicodemus Town Company produced numerous circulars to promote the town, inviting “Colored People of the United States” to come and settle in the “Great Solomon Valley.” The Reverend Roundtree became actively involved in the promotion, and worked with a man by the name of Benjamin “Pap” Singleton , a black carpenter from Nashville, who traveled all over the United States distributing the circulars, which portrayed Nicodemus as a place for African-Americans to establish Black self-government. Singleton, who could not read or write, distributed so many circulars that he was sometimes called the “Moses of the Colored Exodus.” The Blacks who decided to emigrate soon acquired the name “Exodusters”.
At the same time, railroads, needing to populate the West to create markets for their services, exaggerated the quality of the soil and climate in this “Western Eden.”
The desperate families of the South listened with rapt attention and in the late summer of 1877, 308 railroad tickets were purchased to take them to the closest railroad point in Ellis, Kansas. The families then walked the remaining fifty-five miles to Nicodemus, arriving in September 1877.
Building homes along the Solomon River in dugouts, the original settlers found more disappointment and privation as they faced adverse weather conditions. In the Promised Land of Kansas, they initially lacked sufficient tools, seed, and money, but managed to survive the first winter by selling buffalo bones and by working for the Kansas Pacific Railroad at Ellis, the city fifty-five miles away where they originally arrived. Others survived with assistance from the Osage First Nation, who provided food, firewood and staples.
Though most stayed, many settlers were disillusioned by the lack of vegetation and the harsh land and made a hasty return to the green fields of Kentucky and Tennessee. Of those who stayed, the spring of 1878 brought hope and opportunity as new Exodusters, bearing horses, oxen and farming tools began to farm the soil.
A local government was established, headed by “President Smith.”
One woman arriving in the spring, Williana Hickman, said years later of arriving at Nicodemus: “When we got in sight of Nicodemus the men shouted, ‘There is Nicodemus!’ Being very sick, I hailed this news with gladness. I looked with all the eyes I had. I said, ‘Where is Nicodemus? I don’t see it.’ My husband pointed out various smokes coming out of the ground and said, ‘That is Nicodemus.’ The families lived in dugouts… the scenery was not at all inviting, and I began to cry.”
Despite the poor living conditions, Williana and her husband, Reverend Daniel Hickman, stayed, organizing the First Baptist Church in a dugout with a sod structure above it. By 1880, a small, one-room, stone sanctuary had been erected at the same site. This structure evolved from limestone to stucco, and in 1975, a new brick sanctuary was built. Today, the church still stands in Nicodemus.
Zachary Fletcher, one of the town’s first settlers, became the first postmaster and the first entrepreneur in Nicodemus, establishing the St. Francis Hotel and a livery stable in 1880. His wife, Jenny Smith Fletcher, became the first postmistress and schoolteacher and one of the original charter members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The complex that Fletcher built, which housed the post office, school, hotel and stable, later became known as the Fletcher-Switzer House and was an important focus of activity in the community. The building still stands in Nicodemus today.
By 1880, Nicodemus had a population of almost 500, boasting a bank, two hotels, three churches, a newspaper, a drug store, and three general stores – surrounded by twelve square miles of cultivated land.
Edward P. McCabe, who joined the colony in 1878, served two terms as state auditor, 1883-1887, the first African American to hold a major state office.
By 1887 Nicodemus had gained more churches, stores, a literary society, an ice cream parlor, a lawyer, another newspaper, a baseball team, a benefit society and a band. Hopes were high in the community when the railroad talked of an extension from Stockton to Nicodemus and in March of 1887, the voters of the Township approved the issuance of $16,000 in bonds to attract the Union Pacific Railroad to the community. Despite the bond issue, the town and the railroad could not agree on financial compensation and the railroad withdrew its offer.
In 1888, the railroad established the extension six miles away south of the Solomon River, leaving Nicodemus a stranded “island”. Businesses fled to the other side of the river to the Union Pacific Railroad camp that later became known as the town of Bogue. With the businesses leaving, Nicodemus began a gradual decline.
Zachary Fletcher, the town’s first entrepreneur, sold his town lots to the original promoter, W. R. Hill, but continued to run his businesses. Eventually, the hotel reverted to Graham County for a time but was brought back into the family in the 1920′s by Fred Switzer, a great-nephew raised by the Fletchers. When Switzer married Ora Wellington in 1921, they made the hotel their home.
Despite all the hardships and calamities that Nicodemus faced, it survived…and thrived.
More than a half-dozen black settlements sprung up in Kansas after the Civil War but Nicodemus is the only one that still stands.
In the world that author Milton Davis and I have developed – the world you will experience in the upcoming Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage – the secret to Nicodemus’ survival lies in its four very powerful protectors – Harriet Tubman, Dorothy Wright, John Henry and Bass Reeves and the town’s President, “High” John Konker. Just as the Exodusters have been drawn by promises of self-government, freedom and economic success, the town’s protectors have been drawn by a mysterious and fearsome entity known only as Jedediah Green, who you will learn more of in the next phase of Rite of Passage stories.
The Rite of Passage movie is a pulse-pounding thrill-ride that introduces you to this dark and gritty world of steam, brass and iron and to the origins of its heroes.
With the might of our heroes – and with the imaginations of Milton Davis and Yours Truly – Nicodemus Town Company will never fall.
GA-TECH GETS FUNKY! Filmmakers Partner With The Yellow Jackets to Produce the First Steamfunk Feature Film!
GA-TECH GETS FUNKY!
Filmmakers Partner With The Yellow Jackets to Produce the First Steamfunk Feature Film!
I was recently contacted by an agent who asked if Rite of Passage – the Steamfunk movie that goes into pre-production in May and production in August – was a student film. I informed her that the film is a collaboration between the professional multimedia companies MVmedia and Roaring Lions Productions and GA-Tech’s School of Literature, Media and Communication, so yes, students will be heavily involved in the making of the film, but under the guidance and leadership of experienced and accomplished film professionals who are the directors, producers and cinematographers on this project.
I informed her that the students will not be treated as “amateurs”, nor is the film going to be amateur or second rate. The students involved in the making of Rite of Passage are expected to be just as professional…just as committed as those who have worked on ten or more projects.
The agent’s response?
“Well, I will probably send a few of my actors to audition, but most of my actors would never act in a student film. I was a bit surprised to hear that most of the actors she represents dismiss programs that have produced some of industry’s best filmmakers and actors. “She needs to educate her people,” I thought.
However, “To be fair,” – as Rite of Passage’s Producer, Akin Danny Donaldson, is fond of saying – he’s from England; everyone from England are fond of saying that – I could come up with a few reasons myself as to why an actor would not want to act in a student film – there is no pay; the filmmakers do not have a lot of experience and are still learning how to talk to and treat actors; and few student films become a success by Hollywood standards. However, from her reaction, I was sure she – or some of her actors – had experienced some Stygian nightmare in doing a student film.
She, or any of her actors, had not; she just thought there was nothing for her people to gain from such projects. She was oblivious to the tremendous opportunity provided by student films to form strong, lasting and mutually beneficial relationships with young, talented, up-and-coming directors, producers, actors and casting directors.
You could very well be working with the next Martin Scorsese or Spike Lee. They are not master directors yet, but “to be fair”, the next Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Malcolm X, or The Inside Man could be their next film.
Student films often achieve admittance into top notch festivals each year, earning these young filmmakers studio deals and the actors in their films worldwide recognition.
If you choose to act in a student film, there are certain things that you should not negotiate. You should receive a copy of your work in a timely fashion, be fed every six hours, and should not be asked to work longer than a 12-hour day without proper turnaround.
Know that student filmmakers, especially those in the early stages of filmmaking, tend to prioritize their aesthetic vision over an actor’s performance. Don’t be shocked, frustrated, or allow your ego to be bruised if hours are spent on a cool-looking, spinning, overhead dolly shot rather than your sublime performance in a close-up.
Keep in mind that these young filmmakers are attempting to bring their visions to life without large crews and budgets, so – “To be fair” – cut them some slack if things take longer than they should.
Actors, don’t feel ashamed, embarrassed or as if you are “settling” because you are auditioning for a student film. It doesn’t mean that you are a bad actor. Agents submit actors to films by USC, Columbia University and Columbia College Chicago every day.
“To be fair”, however, I will admit that many student films simply stink. The most common reason for such odoriferous works is lack of story. A suicide prone emo teen is a subject, not a story. If your story is about an emo college freshman with a football player roommate whose girlfriend is always trying to convince the emo kid to go out and party – who cares?
The second most common reason for the malodorousness is the student’s reach exceeding his or her grasp. The student tries to tell a story that is too convoluted; uses techniques that are far beyond his or her experience. The more complex the story, the more skill it takes to tell it and the greater likelihood that a relative beginner will fail in the telling of it.
Fortunately, Rite of Passage has some of the best professionals in independent film working on the project and the students chosen to work with us will be the best that GA-Tech has to offer, which, “To be fair,” is saying a lot, as GA-Tech is fast becoming recognized as one of the top film schools in America, particularly in the areas of special effects, sound effects, prop and graphics design and cinematography.
Below are the current professional members of the crew of Rite of Passage. We are all excited to work with the next generation of Scorseses, Lees, Singletons, Spielbergs, Poitiers, Tarantinos, Lucases and”To be fair,” Balogun Ojetades (go ahead, you can laugh)
THE MAKING OF A STEAMFUNK MOVIE: Pt. 1, the Crew
When I left Howard University – and my despised major in Finance – in 1986 (don’t do the math) to pursue my vision of novelist, screenwriter and film director, my family – particularly my mother was supportive. My sister, Alesia, however – a film and video producer for the Air Force – did not warn me about what I was getting myself into.
I enrolled in Columbia College – the renowned college of the Fine Arts in Chicago – and my training in film, which I just knew would be easy and fun every minute, began.
And so did work ten times more demanding than any Finance, Economics, or Statistics class ever was.
Easy? My ass!
Fun? Hell no!
The work was grueling; tiresome; boring; lonely.
Wait a minute…lonely?
The first week of my Film Directing I Class was a solo directing project. Unbeknownst to us ignorant students, that project was designed for the sole purpose of teaching us – the hard way – that film is always a collaborative effort. Anyone who tries to be a one-man film crew is about as sharp as a bowl of Jell-O.
For those of you looking to make a movie, but you do not have access to a multimillion-dollar budget, you may have to assume more than one responsibility to make your film. While it is possible – and often necessary – to wear two or three hats when making a film, it is not recommended. Search hard for qualified and experienced people to work with. The more you do, the more the quality of your film suffers and the quicker you will burn yourself out.
In May, we begin pre-production on the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage. We start shooting in August. This is the bare minimum crew we will begin with:
Producer: A film producer creates the conditions for making movies. The producer initiates, coordinates, supervises, and controls matters such as raising funding, hiring key personnel, and arranging for distributors. The producer is involved throughout all phases of the filmmaking, from development to “delivery” of a project.
Executive producer: In major productions, can sometimes be a representative or CEO of the film studio. Or the title may be given as an honorarium to a major investor. Often they oversee the financial, administrative and creative aspects of production, though not always in a technical capacity. In smaller companies or independent projects, it may be synonymous with creator/writer. Often, a “Line Producer” is awarded this title if this producer has a lineage of experience, or is involved in a greater capacity than a “typical” line producer. E.G – working from development through post, or simply bringing to the table a certain level of expertise.
Associate producer: Usually acts as a representative of the Producer, who may share financial, creative, or administrative responsibilities, delegated from that producer. Often, a title for an experienced film professional acting as a consultant or a title granted as a courtesy to one who makes a major financial, creative or physical contribution to the production.
Script Supervisor: The script supervisor maintains a daily log of the shots covered and their relation to the script during the course of a production, acts as chief continuity person, and acts as an on-set liaison to the post-production staff. They maintain logs of all shots and act as the chief continuity person on set, performing daily cross-referencing with the continuity stills photographer to ensure shots remain accurate and in logical order.
Continuity Stills Photographer: The continuity stills photographer uses a digital still camera to establish continuity referents for each shot covered in a day of shooting. These shots are cross-referenced with the script supervisor’s log for accessibility on set. The continuity stills photographer takes pictures of each shot covered, paying particular attention to the in-point and out-point of a shot – a photograph is taken just before the director says “action,” and immediately after he or she says “cut.”
Director: The director is responsible for overseeing the creative aspects of a film, including controlling the content and flow of the film’s plot, directing the performances of actors, organizing and selecting the locations in which the film will be shot, and managing technical details such as the positioning of cameras, the use of lighting, and the timing and content of the film’s soundtrack. Though the director wields a great deal of power, they are ultimately subordinate to the film’s producer or producers. Some directors, especially more established ones, take on many of the roles of a producer, and the distinction between the two roles is sometimes blurred.
Stunt Coordinator: Where the film requires a stunt, and involves the use of stunt performers, the stunt coordinator will arrange the casting and performance of the stunt, working closely with the director. This includes Fight Choreographers – stunt coordinators who specialize in the casting, design and performance of fight scenes.
Production Designer: A production designer is responsible for creating the physical, visual appearance of the film – settings, costumes, properties, character makeup, all taken as a unit. The production designer works closely with the director and the cinematographer to achieve the ‘look’ of the film.
Director of Photography / Cinematographer: The director of photography is the chief of the camera and lighting crew of the film. The DP makes decisions on lighting and framing of scenes in conjunction with the film’s director. Typically, the director tells the DP how they want a shot to look, and the DP chooses the correct aperture, filter, and lighting to achieve the desired effect.
Camera Operator: The camera operator uses the camera at the direction of the cinematographer / director of photography, or the film director to capture the scenes on film. Generally, a cinematographer or director of photography does not operate the camera, but sometimes these jobs may be combined.
Boom Operator: The boom operator is an assistant to the production sound mixer, responsible for microphone placement and movement during filming. The boom operator uses a boom pole, a long pole made of light aluminum or carbon fiber that allows precise positioning of the microphone above or below the actors, just out of the camera’s frame. The boom operator may also place radio microphones and hidden set microphones.
Film Editor: The film editor is the person who assembles the various shots into a coherent film, with the help of the director.
Sound Designer: The sound designer, or “supervising sound editor”, is in charge of the post-production sound of a movie. Sometimes this may involve great creative license, and other times it may simply mean working with the director and editor to balance the sound to their liking.
Composer: The composer is responsible for writing the musical score for a film.
Foley Artist: The foley artist is the person who creates the sound effects for a film.
Key Makeup Person: The key makeup person applies and maintains the cast’s makeup, working in coordination with the script supervisor and the continuity stills photographer.
Key Hairdresser: The key hairdresser dresses and maintains the cast’s hair, working in coordination with the script supervisor and the continuity stills photographer.
Costume Designer: The costume designer works under the supervision of the director and the art director to design, obtain, assemble, and maintain the costumes for a production. Costume designers develop costuming concepts and the design of costumes in coordination with the art director, production designer, and DP.
This is the crew I am working with, plus the assistants for each member of the crew, caterers and security. I bet no Financier ever had to work with so many people – from a couple of months to a year or more – just to complete one project.
Such is the life of a filmmaker, but I love it and when you see the fruit of the labor of our crew, when Rite of Passage hits the silver screen at the Black Science Fiction Film Festival in February, 2014, you’ll love it – and us – too!
More funk to come. Stay tuned, Steamfunkateers!
If you would like to be a part of the making of this film and live in or near Atlanta, please join us at the Information Session at Georgia Tech Thursday, April 18, 2013; Skiles Building; Room 343 at 11:00 am. We will discuss cast and crew needs, scheduling and benefits to be enjoyed by all involved!
STEAMFUNK FICTION: A Darker Shade of Brown
Readers are asking for more Steamfunk, which is really quite shocking; not because Steamfunk fiction isn’t absolutely funktastic – it is – but because, after reading nearly five-hundred pages chock full o’ funky goodness, I would figure they would need to take a breather and inhale a bit of funk-free air.
Much to my surprise and glee, I was mistaken. “More Steamfunk!” is the cry. Even the august group of authors who contributed their fascinating fables of funkasticity to the anthology has demanded a second volume – Steamfunk II: Dieselfunk.
To tide you over until the final verdict on the production of a second volume is delivered, I offer you a listing of several books that are either Steamfunk, or Steampunk, with a main character of African descent.
Here goes. Enjoy!
And remember: keep it funky!
Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2) by Balogun Ojetade
“I’m gon’ drive the evil out and send it back to Hell, where it belong!” – Harriet Tubman Harriet Tubman: Freedom fighter. Psychic. Soldier. Spy. Something…more. Much more. In “MOSES: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Book 1: Kings * Book 2: Judges)”, the author masterfully transports you to a world of wonder…of horror…of amazing inventions, captivating locales and extraordinary people. In this novel of dark fantasy (with a touch of Steampunk), Harriet Tubman must match wits and power with the sardonic John Wilkes Booth and a team of hunters with powers beyond this world in order to save herself, her teenaged nephew, Ben and a little girl in her care – Margaret. But is anyone who, or what, they seem?
The Switch and The Switch II: Clockwork by Valjeanne Jeffers
Includes The Switch I and The Switch II! York is a city of contradictions. Women are hard-pressed for lovers, because lovemaking can be dangerous. The upper city is powered by computers, the underground by steam. And the wealthy don’t work for a living, underdwellers do it for them. But certain underdwellers have a big problem with this arrangement. And so does the time keeper. Welcome to the Revolution…
Samoht Sivad, sorcerer and warrior, goes missing after a garrison tour. Naheem, his cousin and acting patriarch of the Sivad clan, sets out to find him. His journey puts him on the path of a man who has found a way to seek revenge from beyond his grave.
The Possession introduces the alternate world of the Sivads, a North America whose present is entirely unique from the world in which we live, a land of beauty, diversity…and magic.
In the second Sivad Chronicle adventure, brothers Samoht and Vel find themselves exiled from the Nations by their cousin Naheem for different reasons. They embark on a journey to the Motherland to seek the secrets of their clan and their mysterious power. Naheem sets out to right his cousins’ wrongs while they are away and finds himself in his own adventure, one that will be as dangerous as it is enlightening.
Immortal 4: Collision of Worlds by Valjeanne Jeffers
Rules were broken. Now the price must be paid. “The New World awoke to a roaring wind, light blazed from the mirror—swallowing the planet—a churning, savage vortex. Tundra’s inhabitants cried out, as their flesh bled from their bones like wet clay. The world shuddered. And was still.” The Immortals broke the rules. As punishment, Karla and Joseph are transported to a steam powered realm. Tehotep is now ruler of the empire. Karla is his concubine. Vampires roam the streets. Androids enforce a demon’s will. And there is no way out. Except death…
Steamfunk Issue 0 Written by Eric Doty; Illustrated by Luke McKay
A comic book for all ages, that includes a bit of Steampunk and a pinch of Dieselpunk with Western and Fantasy elements. Its biggest influences are the film, The Wizard of Oz and the television series, Firefly. The “funk” in the title serves a dual purpose, referring to the musical references throughout the story as well as the state of the world the characters exist in. The story follows the adventures of a gutsy delivery girl, Deaux, as she unravels truths that she may not be prepared for.
John Henry: The Steam Age Written and Illustrated by Dwayne Harris
John Henry, a former slave, wasn’t about to let some new-fangled steam hammer replace his ability to earn an honest wage as a steel-driving man. He’d beat that machine, or die with his hammer in his hand. We all know the outcome of that legendary contest. In this alternate history, however, John doesn’t die in his heroic effort, but instead slips into a coma, only to awaken to his worst nightmare. A robotic uprising has occurred, and a new age has dawned – the Steam Age! Now the only thing that can free the human race from the very machines they’ve created is John and his hammer. John Henry: The Steam Age is an exciting re-imagining of the story of John Henry in a steampunk setting.
Clementine by Cherie Priest
Maria Isabella Boyd’s success as a Confederate spy has made her too famous for further espionage work, and now her employment options are slim. Exiled, widowed, and on the brink of poverty…she reluctantly goes to work for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency in Chicago.
Adding insult to injury, her first big assignment is commissioned by the Union Army. In short, a federally sponsored transport dirigible is being violently pursued across the Rockies and Uncle Sam isn’t pleased. The Clementine is carrying a top secret load of military essentials – essentials which must be delivered to Louisville, Kentucky, without delay.
Intelligence suggests that the unrelenting pursuer is a runaway slave who’s been wanted by authorities on both sides of the Mason-Dixon for fifteen years. In that time, Captain Croggon Beauregard Hainey has felonied his way back and forth across the continent, leaving a trail of broken banks, stolen war machines, and illegally distributed weaponry from sea to shining sea.
And now it’s Maria’s job to go get him.
He’s dangerous quarry and she’s a dangerous woman, but when forces conspire against them both, they take a chance and form an alliance. She joins his crew, and he uses her connections. She follows his orders. He takes her advice.
And somebody, somewhere, is going to rue the day he crossed either one of them.
Stay tuned! There is plenty more Steamfunk to come!
A bitter chill gnawed at the back of Thomas Morgan’s pink neck.
He flipped up the collar of his overcoat and walked briskly up the lonely road. “It will be dark soon,” he whispered. “I must find shelter.”
Thomas continued on, thinking that the feeling of unmerciful winds biting into his flesh must be what it felt like to the countless number of slaves who had tasted the caustic sting of his whip.
The memory of his whip rending black flesh warmed him a bit and strengthened his resolve to continue on.
Finally, Thomas came upon a house. He crept up to it. The smell of cinnamon met him, caressing his nostrils. Thomas peeked through a window at the front of the house. Inside, an elderly Black couple sat before a flickering fire. Steam rose from their brass mugs as they sipped from them.
“Niggers,” Thomas hissed. To Thomas, ‘niggers’ were bad enough, but ‘Yankee niggers’ were the worst.
“Well, their nigger home looks warm,” He thought. “And niggers are too scared to turn away a white man seekin’ shelter.”
A moment later, a man’s voice called from the other side of the door. “Who’s there?”
“My name’s Morgan,” Thomas replied. “Thomas Morgan. My airship crashed about a half mile from here. I need a warm place to spend the night until I can find a tinkerer in the morning.”
The door opened a crack. A pair of brown eyes peered out. “You sound like a Southerner, Mr. Morgan,” the old man said.
“Born and raised,” Thomas said, tipping his bowler as he saluted the old man with a deep bow. “But my heart belongs to the North.”
“What brings you to Weeksville?” The old man inquired.
“I’ve been usin’ that ol’ airship of mine to transport runaways for Harriet Tubman,” Thomas lied. He wondered what this old coon would do if he told them that he was really headed to Auburn to kill ‘General Tubman’.
“You can stay,” the old man said. “If you tell me an’ my wife a good story.”
Thomas rubbed his numb fingers under his armpits. “Umm…there once was a man from Nantucket…”
“I said a good story!” The old man said, interrupting Thomas’ limerick.
“I wish I could, but I’m just a transporter of people and cargo,” Thomas said. “I don’t have no stories to tell.”
“Black devil!” Thomas spat as he stormed away from the house.
He perused the area. A barn sat several yards behind the house. Thomas scurried toward the barn. He tugged at the door and it swung open. Inside, the barn was empty, save for a few farming tools strewn about and a large mound of straw that sat in a far corner.
Thomas dashed to the mound and dived into it. He burrowed deep into the mound, pulling straw over himself until he was completely covered. He quickly warmed up and, within moments, he was sound asleep.
A gruff voice awakened him.
Thomas peered between a few blades of straw, seeking the source of the harsh, baritone voice that had startled him out of his slumber.
In the middle of the barn, illuminated by a single lantern, stood two of the largest men Thomas had ever seen in his life. One man stood about seven feet tall. His massive muscles strained against his leather overcoat as he rapidly rubbed two sticks together over a pile of twigs and dry leaves
The other man, nearly a foot taller than the first and just as massive, dragged something large and heavy across the floor.
Both men’s faces were concealed by the over-sized brims of their top-hats, but their hands were nearly black as pitch.
As the fire came to life and lit the barn, Thomas saw clearly what the man was dragging – the corpse of a portly white man. The flesh on the corpse’s neck was twisted into a sickening spiral pattern, as if someone – or something – had tried to screw his head off.
The first man tied a rope around the corpse’s feet. “Hang him from that beam and let’s roast him.”
“I’m tired,” the first man replied. “Let Tom Morgan do it.”
Thomas shuddered. “How could they know I’m here? How do they know my name?”
“Come on out,” the second man bellowed.
Thomas crawled out of the mound of hay.
The first man yanked him to his feet. “Turn the corpse…and do not let it burn!”
Thomas’ mouth went dry and sourness gurgled in his throat. He nodded.
Thomas began to slowly turn the corpse over the fire.
The men turned from him. The first man snatched the barn door open. Moonlight poured into the barn, reflecting off the giants’ ebon skin.
“Keep turning, Tom,” the second man said as he disappeared into the night. “We’ll be back soon.”
Thomas shook as he turned the body over the fire.
A loud snap startled him. Suddenly, the corpse plummeted into the now raging flame. Sparks and ashes flew into the air and the barn filled with smoke.
“No!” Thomas screamed. “They’ll kill me!”
Thomas sprinted out the door and back onto the road. He raced into the frigid wind, fear keeping his legs pumping even though they ached terribly. When he could not run another step, he scurried into a muddy ditch, hiding behind a moist clump of overgrown weeds.
He had barely caught his breath when he heard thunderous footsteps upon the road above him.
“I am tired of carrying this charred, fat fool,” a gruff voice bellowed. “You carry him now.”
“Not me,” a second voice – as deep and gruff as the first – replied. “I’m tired. Let Tom Morgan do it.”
A loud thud exploded behind Thomas. He whirled toward the sound. Standing over him was the massive second man from the barn.
The man wrapped his thick fingers around Thomas’ neck and then hurled him high into the air.
Thomas winced as his buttocks slammed onto the road.
The first man snatched him onto his feet.
“Drag this body to Whitmore Ridge so we can bury it!” The first man ordered.
“But…but ain’t Whitmore Ridge about a mile from here?” Thomas asked.
“Move!” The first man commanded.
Thomas tucked the corpse’s feet under his armpits and shambled up the road, dragging the obese, bloated body behind him.
Thomas’ legs burned and his back felt as if it would fold in upon itself, but his fear of the twin black giants kept his taxed legs moving.
“While you’re down there, start digging,” the first man snickered.
“With my hands?” Thomas sighed.
“Well, you can’t dig with my hands, can you?” The first man spat.
The second man tapped the first man on the shoulder and then pointed toward the reddening sky. “Sun’s coming.”
“It’s your lucky night, Tom Morgan,” the first man said. “If we could stay a bit longer, we’d bury you with that body.”
With that, the men sauntered away and soon disappeared up the road.
Thomas leapt to his feet and then sprinted down the road in the opposite direction of the giants. Soon, he came upon the same house with the barn behind it in which the two men had found him. He slammed his fists on the door.
The door swung open. The old man of the house stood before him.
“You, again?” The old man hissed.
“Please, sir,” Thomas cried. “Some crazed men made me do terrible things! Please, grant me a place to hide and to rest and I will reward you dearly.”
The old man stepped aside and Thomas staggered through the doorway.
“Take a seat,” the old man said, pointing toward a table with four large oak chairs.
Thomas plopped down in a chair. The old woman of the house – a petite Black woman with smooth, cocoa skin and white locks that fell to the middle of her back - placed a cup before him. Thomas inhaled. The contents of the cup smelled pleasantly of honey, cinnamon and nutmeg. Thomas took a sip. The tea warmed and relaxed him.
Suddenly, heavy footsteps came from the back of the house.
A shiver crawled up the back of Thomas’ neck.
The twin, ebon giants sauntered into the room.
“Have a seat, boys,” the old woman said. “Tom Morgan got a story to tell.”
THE UNMASKING OF AUNT TAMMY
The ivory Rolls Royce Phantom crept along the winding road towards the immense structure, which loomed on the horizon.
“Fifteen years.” Amy said. Her perfect, white teeth reflected the shine from her gloss-moistened lips as she smiled.
“What?” The chauffeur peered at Amy through the rearview mirror.
“Fifteen years, Tosu,” Amy answered. “Fifteen years of my fellow Senior Executives’ racist, sexist, bullshit. Fifteen years of the black employees calling me ‘Aunt Tammy’ behind my back. It all ends tonight.”
Tosu’s broad shoulders danced back and forth as he chuckled. “Aunt Tammy?”
“Yes, Aunt Tammy, Amy replied. “A female ‘Uncle Tom’ – and that’s not funny, Tosu!”
“Of course, you are not an ‘Aunt Tammy’, little sister,” Tosu said. “Just because you prefer Frank Sinatra to Fifty-Cent…or because you prefer quinoa to cornbread…or because you prefer Steampunk to Street Lit does not mean you are an Uncle Tom or an Aunt Tammy…It does mean, however, that you have poor taste!”
The driver looked over his shoulder at his little sister. “Today, all that you have endured pays off.”
Amy took a deep breath. “Yes, today it does…for us…”
“And for Malomo,” Tosu whispered, as he fought back the tears that threatened to pour from under his eyelids.
The Rolls Royce Phantom crept into the circular carport on the side of the mansion.
A short, lean, Asian woman – dressed in a blue, silk kimono – opened the door of the Rolls Royce for Amy. “Good afternoon, Ms. Cross,” The Asian woman said, smiling warmly. “My name is Yuriko Sakuraba. Mr. Emilianenko is eager to see you. Follow me please.”
Amy shuffled behind Yuriko, who escorted her to a pair of double doors within the mansion. The doors were carved from heavy African ironwood and inlaid with gold. “This is the dining room,” Yuriko began. “There are a few rules I must go over with you before you enter, but first, a quick search.”
Yuriko perused Amy’s face. Her expression told Amy that the security expert could see the fearlessness in her eyes. Fearlessness…and ferocity. Amy searched Yuriko’s eyes and saw the same.
Yuriko glided her lithe fingers across Amy’s athletic frame. Her skilled hands did not leave even the slightest wrinkle on Amy’s black shark-skin business suit. The search confirmed that Amy was unarmed.
“Now, the rules,” Yuriko began. “First, once you are seated, please remain so, unless you need to go to the restroom. If that is the case, please inform Mr. Emilianenko. He will call me on the radio and I will escort you.”
Amy nodded and Yuriko continued.
“Second, please refrain from any sudden gestures, or talking excessively with your hands.”
Amy smiled and nodded again. Yuriko nodded back at Amy and went on.
“Finally, just remember, I will be right outside this door if any assistance is needed.”
Amy nodded and held her smile. She knew that the final rule was actually a warning that if she tried to harm Mr. Emilianenko, she would have to deal with Yuriko. “I understand.”
Yuriko smiled and then pushed the double doors open. Amy stepped into the huge dining room behind Yuriko. The room was illuminated by a crystal chandelier, which hovered above a ten-foot long, mahogany table, which Amy figured to be over a hundred years old, judging by the hand-carved craftsmanship. Aside from the dining table and chairs, which sat in the middle of the room, the dining room was pretty bare, except for tropical plants, which sat in each corner and gave the room a fresh, pleasant smell that reminded Amy of cantaloupe, sprinkled with black pepper.
At the far end of the table sat Vasiliev Emilianenko, Amy’s boss. CEO of Biochem, Incorporated.
“Please, be seated.” Yuriko whispered.
Amy sat at the end of the table opposite Vasiliev.
Vasiliev waved a well-manicured hand as if swatting flies with the back of it. “You are dismissed, Ms. Sakuraba.”
Yuriko bowed and exited the dining room. Vasiliev turned his gaze toward Amy and grinned. “Good evening, Ms. Cross.”
“Good evening, Mr. Emilianenko.”
Vasiliev shook his head. His curly, black hair bounced slightly as his head moved from side to side. “Please, call me Vasiliev. May I call you Amy?”
Amy nodded. “Of course.”
Vasiliev smiled even wider. “So, Amy, let’s chat while we wait for our meal, yes?”
Vasiliev leaned forward in his chair and placed his arms upon the table. His massive arms strained against the sleeves of his soft, burgundy, silk smoking jacket. “So, you are my Vice President of International Affairs, yes?”
Amy nodded. “Yes.”
“And now, you are here to put in your bid for President, now that Radcliff Delmont has retired, yes?”
Amy swallowed and then nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“Well, Amy, I do not dine with V-Ps…only Presidents.” Vasiliev grinned and the light from the chandelier danced across his perfectly veneered teeth.
Amy patted her chest. “What?! You mean the position is mine?”
“Yes,” Vasiliev said. “You’ve earned it. I would be a fool not to promote the person responsible for a two-hundred and twelve percent increase in our international profits. If I do not promote you, my rivals will steal you away from me.”
“Yes, Vasiliev,” Amy replied. “I’ve been collecting masks from all over Africa for the past two decades.”
“And I hear there has been one mask, in particular, that you desire, but it has eluded you, yes?”
“Yes, it is called ‘Oya’s Beard’. It is a rare Yoruba mask that depicts the Goddess Oya with a conical beard. “It represents women who possess the power of man, as well as woman.”
Vasiliev shoved the box down the table towards Amy. “I see…open the box, please.”
Amy caught the box as it slid over the edge of the table. She opened the box and peeked inside. “Oh, my God! Vasiliev…I don’t know how to thank you!”
Vasiliev pounded his fists on his broad chest. “That is my thanks to you! You have done so much for Biochem. This is just a small token of my appreciation…but, please, tell me…why such a fascination with masks, Amy?”
Amy stared into Vasiliev’s grey eyes. The time had finally come. “Paul Lawrence Dunbar said: ‘We wear the mask that grins and lies.’ I collect masks to remind me that there are many masks that we wear and I must never allow one of them to become my face.”
Vasiliev leaned forward again. “Explain, please.”
“We all wear masks and, many times, we wear them so long and so often that the mask becomes indistinguishable from the person. The mask has become the face. Thankfully, mine has not.”
Vasiliev smiled. “So, what mask do you wear, Amy?”
Amy patted her chest and then ran her hands across her face. “This is my mask. Amy Cross. Conservative…capitalist…loyal to the establishment…an Aunt Tammy.”
Vasiliev’s right hand crept closer to the two-way radio that sat at the corner of the table. “Continue, please.”
“But my face, Vasiliev, is Esusanya Ogunlana. Former operative of the OPC – Ododuwa People’s Congress…aunt of Malomo Ogunlana, who was a victim of the Atlanta Child Murders…remember those!?”
Vasiliev grabbed the two-way radio. Amy hurled the Oya’s Beard mask towards him. The spiked chin of the mask tore through his esophagus, piercing his spine.
The tip of the mask’s chin protruded from the back of Vasiliev’s neck. His shoulders bounced up and down involuntarily and his legs jerked back and forth in a sardonic tap-dance. The two-way radio was frozen in Vasiliev’s right hand. His eyes stared, unblinking, at Amy’s – or Esusanya’s – chest.
Esusanya was a blur as she sprung from her chair and darted across the room until she was directly behind Vasiliev. She placed her full lips to Vasiliev’s ear and whispered: “Within the next ninety seconds, you will be dead, so let’s make this brief. I know you were responsible for the death of my nephew and all those other boys. I know that you had those boys kidnapped and murdered in order to harvest their melanin and sell it to the highest bidder to use in their tanning lotions, sunblockers and contact lenses. I know you, Vasiliev Emilianenko…your mask has been removed!”
Esusanya sauntered to the double doors and placed her hands upon the handles. “I’ll have to soak in Epsom salts after this.”
She then opened the doors to face Yuriko Sakuraba…and a life with no masks.
In the film, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter – based on the bestselling novel of the same name – a young Abraham Lincoln’s life is changed forever after he discovers, to his horror, that slavery is an institution controlled by vampires and the slaves are not to be used for labor, but for food. Lincoln decides that to end slavery is to end the scourge of vampires. Lincoln thus becomes an Abolitionist.
The idea of this took me back to elementary school, wherein we were taught that the real Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves after a terrible war between the Northern and Southern United States – fought because the “evil” South wanted to keep slaves and maintain slavery, while the “good” North sought to abolish slavery. A few years later, Icame to realize that what was taught to us in elementary school was as absurd as Abraham Lincoln ending slavery to stop a plague of vampires.
Many Steampunks choose to ignore the horrors wrought by colonialism – slavery, indentured service, sexism, classism; they create a world in which these things do not exist, or are sugar-coated so much, the world might end up diabetic.
A while ago, in response to another blog I wrote entitled What is Steamfunk? Exposing The Big Steampunk Lie, a Steampunk said “History is exactly what it says on the tin, an event that happened in the past. Learn its lesson and move forward. The human race will never achieve its potential if we cannot let the past go, and progress to greater things. If race, religion, sex or age is an issue to you, it proves a lack of intelligence, or an example of a small mind, which in of itself is an evolutionary cul de sac.”
Now, I wanted to come back in some clever way, like former enslaved brother, Jourdon Anderson did in response to his former “master” asking him to return to work on the same plantation upon which he and his family suffered. But I…wait…you haven’t read the brilliant letter by old Jourdon? Well, here you go:
I got your letter and was glad to find you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this for harboring Rebs they found at your house.
I suppose they never heard about your going to Col. Martin’s to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville hospital, but one of the neighbors told me Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.
I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here; I get $25 a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy (the folks here call her Mrs. Anderson), and the children, Milly, Jane and Grundy, go to school and are learning well; the teacher says Grundy has a head for a preacher. They go to Sunday- School, and Mandy and me attend church regularly. We are kindly treated; sometimes we overhear others saying, “The colored people were slaves” down in Tennessee. The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks, but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Col. Anderson. Many darkies would have been proud, as I used to was, to call you master. Now, if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.
As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free-papers in 1864 from the Provost- Marshal- General of the Department of Nashville.
Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you are sincerely disposed to treat us justly and kindly–and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future.
I served you faithfully for thirty-two years and Mandy twenty years. At $25 a month for me, and $2 a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to $11,680. Add to this the interest for the time our wages has been kept back and deduct what you paid for our clothing and three doctor’s visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to.
Please send the money by Adams Express, in care of V. Winters, esq, Dayton, Ohio.
If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night, but in Tennessee there was never any pay day for the Negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.
In answering this letter please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up and both good-looking girls. You know how it was with Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve and die if it comes to that than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters. You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood, the great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits.
P.S. — Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.
From your old servant,
I wanted to be clever, however, my response was just…well, me:
Race, religion, sex and age are not issues to me, however they are concerns. Many people of color have these concerns. Many who are brilliant. Such concerns are not proof of lack of intelligence, nor of small mindedness. Who is seeking such proof anyway? There are several people on this site with the same concerns – none of whom lack intelligence…none of whom have small minds.
If I abuse and steal from my neighbor and then tell him to move on…to let it go…I am the one displaying small mindedness. Should Jews let go of the horrors they endured in the holocaust? Are they small minded or lacking in intelligence for saying “Never again” and for not letting go of their past troubles? Absolutely not! No one who has suffered at the hands of an oppressor should “let go”. They should use the past to move forward. This is a principle in African culture called “Sankofa”. A good principle I will continue to live by.
And so I – like a good African traditionalist – and, indeed, like a good Steampunk and Steamfunkateer – now look back at the America my ancestors and elders knew…the America I choose to express in my Steampunk; the America that provides a wealth of happenings, people and settings that make for great Steamfunk stories.
And to those who want to say “let sleeping dogs lie”, or “let the past go”, or some other insensitive bullshit – my mother sharecropped; my aunts and uncles…my maternal grandparents…my first cousins. I grew up hearing the horror stories and the happy ones and they shaped and molded me, my creativity and my love for all things Black / African.
As I stated in the opening of the Steamfunk anthology: To “let go” is to be un-African; to “let go” is to let go of myself. Ain’t gonna happen. Ever.
And now, without further ado, I present – for your reading (dis)pleasure…
Historic Timeline of Slavery
- 1501-African Slaves in the New World
Spanish settlers bring slaves from Africa to Santo Domingo (now the capital of the Dominican Republic).
- 1619-Slaves in Virginia
Africans brought to Jamestown are the first slaves imported into Britain’s North American colonies. Research shows the year may actually be 64 years earlier – 1555.
- 1700-First Antislavery Publication
Massachusetts jurist and printer, Samuel Seawell, publishes the first North American antislavery tract, The Selling of Joseph.
- 1705-Slaves as Property
Describing slaves as real estate, Virginia lawmakers allow owners to bequeath their slaves. The same law allows masters to “kill and destroy” runaways.
- 1775-Abolitionist Society
Anthony Benezet of Philadelphia founds the world’s first abolitionist society. Benjamin Franklin becomes its president in 1787.
- 1776-Declaration of Independence
The Continental Congress asserts “that these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States.”
- 1793-Fugitive Slave Act
The United States outlaws any efforts to impede the capture of runaway slaves. (Also see 1850)
- 1808-United States Bans Slave Trade
Importing African slaves is outlawed, but smuggling continues.
- 1820-Missouri Compromise
Missouri is admitted to the Union as a slave state, Maine as a free state. Slavery is forbidden in any subsequent territories north of latitude 36°30′.
- 1834-1838-Slavery in England
England abolishes slavery in its colonies including Jamaica, Barbados, and other West Indian territories.
- 1850-Compromise of 1850
In exchange for California’s entering the Union as a free state, northern congressmen accept a harsher Fugitive Slave Act different from the previous one of 1793.
- 1854-Kansas-Nebraska Act
Setting aside the Missouri Compromise of 1820, Congress permits these two new territories to choose whether to allow slavery. Violent clashes erupt.
- 1857-Dred Scott Decision
The United States Supreme Court decides, seven to two, that Blacks can never be citizens and that Congress has no authority to outlaw slavery in any territory.
- 1860-Abraham Lincoln Elected
Abraham Lincoln of Illinois becomes the first Republican to win the United States Presidency.
- 1861-65-United States Civil War
Four years of brutal conflict claim 623,000 lives.
On September 22, Lincoln drafts the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. The final is issued on January 1, 1863.
- 1863-Emancipation Proclamation
President Abraham Lincoln decrees that all slaves in Rebel territory are free on January 1, 1863. The Proclamation only emancipated those slaves in states that were in rebellion against the United States. The proclamation did not emancipate slaves in the states that never left the Union.
- 1865-Slavery Abolished
The 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution outlaws slavery.
The Underground Railroad was a covert network of people and places who assisted fugitive slaves as they escaped from slavery in the South. Most widespread during the three decades prior to the Civil War, this activity primarily took place in the regions bordering slave states, with the Ohio River being the center of much of the activity.
At the heart of the Underground Railroad were the beliefs of the abolitionist movement. The 18th Century Quakers – members of the Religious Society of Friends – were the first organized abolitionists, believing that slavery violated Christian principles. By the first decades of the 1800s, every state in the North had legally abolished slavery. Abolitionist ideas then spread west into the territories that would soon become Indiana and Ohio.
People involved with the Underground Railroad developed their own terminology to describe participants, safe places, and other codes that needed to be kept secret. People who guided slaves from place to place were called “conductors”; locations where slaves could safely find protection, food, or a place to sleep were called “safe houses” or “stations”; those who hid fugitive slaves in their homes, barns, or churches were called “station masters”; enslaved Black people, who were in the safekeeping of a conductor or station master, were “cargo”.
Code words were also used to enable fugitive slaves to find their way North. The Big Dipper, whose handle pointed towards the North Star, was referred to as the “drinking gourd”; the Ohio River was frequently referred to by a biblical reference, the “River Jordan”; Canada, one of the final safe havens for many fugitive slaves was called the “Promised Land“.
Besides Canada, many fugitive slaves also escaped to cities in the northern and western U.S., Mexico, the Caribbean Islands and South America.
It is important to realize that while conductors and fugitive slaves were participating on the Underground Railroad, all of their actions were illegal. The federal government had passed Fugitive Slave Acts as early as 1793 that allowed slave catchers to come north and force runaways back into slavery. By the 1830s and 1840s, these laws were expanded in reaction to increased Underground Railroad activity.
With the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, assisting or helping hide fugitive slaves became a federal offense, making all Underground Railroad activity subject to six months in prison and a $1,000 fine. Escaping from slavery or helping someone to escape from slavery was a very difficult and dangerous task.
The Underground Railroad is often portrayed as the result of benevolent abolitionists who toiled out of the kindness of their hearts to lead and shelter fearful runaway slaves, helping them break free from the bonds of slavery to start life anew in the Promised Land.
These abolitionists are depicted as white people who placed lamps in windows or quilts on fences as signals for safe places. Slaves would then hide in the homes and barns of conductors, hidden in their secret hiding rooms and passage ways. This scenario is pure myth.
The reality of the Underground Railroad was much less romantic. Escaping enslaved individuals often had no help or guidance from anyone throughout the majority of their journey. While it is a common belief that white Northerners were going into the South and bringing slaves from the farms and plantations into the North, the truth is that most enslaved individuals left on their own. When the enslaved did have assistance, the aid they received varied from being given a place to rest in barns and sheds to being provided with a small amount of food and sent on to the next location. Those seeking freedom would have had to place a good amount of trust in the people who were assisting them, for at any moment their safety could be compromised, leading to recapture.
There is also a common misconception that all people working to assist escaping individuals were white Northerners. The fact is that the majority of the conductors on the Underground Railroad in the South were Black, often still enslaved themselves.
Come on, ride this train
It is very difficult to know the exact number of people who escaped from slavery and even harder still to know the exact number of people who escaped with the help of the Underground Railroad because no complete records were kept. Best estimates put the number at 100,000.
The thousands of people, both famous and not, who escaped or assisted on the Underground Railroad were very brave individuals whose courage, cooperation, and perseverance helped them to survive and endure. Here are some of the stories of these heroes and sheroes.
Brown, enslaved in Richmond, Virginia, convinced Samuel A. Smith to nail a box shut around him, wrap five hickory hoops around the box, and ship it to a member of the Vigilance Committee in Philadelphia. The box was 2 feet 8 inches wide, 2 feet deep and 3 feet long.
At 5 feet 10 inches and more than 200 pounds, Brown had very little space for movement. Even though the box was marked “This side up with care,” he spent some of the time upside down. He could not shift his position because that might attract attention. Brown took only a little water to drink, and also to splash on his face if he got to warm, and some biscuits. There were tiny holes within the box so he could breathe. In all, the trip took 27 long hours. When the box finally arrived in the Philadelphia Anti-Slavery office, four people locked the door behind them, knocked on the box, and opened it up. Henry stood up and reached out to shake their hands. He was a free man!
Henry ‘Box’ Brown went on to speak all over the U.S. and Europe about his escape.
1827 – 1900
Born enslaved in Virginia, Parker was sold away from his mother at age eight and forced to walk in a line of chained slaves from Virginia to Alabama. After several unsuccessful attempts, he finally bought his freedom with the money he earned doing extra work as a skilled craftsman.
Parker moved to Cincinnati and then to Ripley, where he became one of the most daring slave rescuers of the period. Not content to wait for runaways to make their way to the Ohio side of the river, Parker actually “invaded” Kentucky farms at night and brought over to Ripley hundreds of slaves. He kept records of those he had guided towards freedom, but he destroyed the notes in 1850 after realizing how the Fugitive Slave Law threatened his home, his business, and his family’s future.
1839 – 1915
Years of working on ships around Charleston, South Carolina paid off for Robert Smalls and twelve other enslaved people. On May 13, 1862, Smalls, his wife and two children, and twelve other slaves took over the Planter, a steamboat built to haul cotton.
Dressed as the captain, Smalls used the signals he knew would allow passage by Fort Sumter. He then steered the ship towards the Union Navy, which was currently blockading the port. Hoisting the white flag of surrender, Smalls offered the boat to the Union forces.
Not only had he won freedom for himself, his family, and twelve others, but Smalls had also given the Union a ship, weapons, and important information about the Confederates’ defenses. President Lincoln authorized a bill giving Smalls $1500 for his actions. He was named captain of the Planter, and took part in seventeen engagements (events during the Civil War) on behalf of the Union.
When the war was over, Smalls lectured throughout New York. He bought the Beaufort, South Carolina, home where he and his mother had been enslaved; he lived there for the rest of his life. Smalls served terms in the South Carolina Senate and House of Representatives before being elected to the U.S. Congress for five years.
1822 – 1913
When, as a young child on a plantation in Eastern Maryland, Tubman tried to protect another slave, she suffered a head injury that led to sudden blackouts throughout her life. On her first escape, Tubman trekked through the woods at night, found shelter and aid from free Blacks and Quakers, and eventually reached freedom in Philadelphia to align with William Still and the Vigilance Committee.
After hearing that her niece and children would soon be sold, Tubman arranged to meet them in Baltimore and usher them North to freedom. It was the first of some thirteen trips during which Tubman guided approximately 50 to 70 people to freedom.
Tubman spoke often before antislavery gatherings detailing her experiences. She was never captured, and went on to serve as a spy, scout, and nurse for the Union Army. When the government refused to give her a pension for her wartime service, Tubman sold vegetables and fruit door-to-door and lived on the proceeds from her biography.
Reconstruction, one of the most turbulent and controversial eras in American history, began during the Civil War and ended in 1877.
Reconstruction remains relevant today because the issues central to it — the role of the federal government in protecting citizens’ rights, and the possibility of economic and racial justice — are still unresolved.
Central to Reconstruction was the effort of former slaves to take full advantage of their newly acquired freedom, and to claim their rights as citizens. Rather than passive victims of the actions of others, Black people were active agents in shaping Reconstruction.
After rejecting the Reconstruction plan of President Andrew Johnson, the Republican Congress enacted laws and Constitutional amendments that empowered the federal government to enforce the principle of equal rights, and gave black Southerners the right to vote and hold office, however, in time, the North abandoned its commitment to protect the rights of the former slaves, Reconstruction came to an end, and white supremacy was restored throughout the South.
Reconstruction During the Civil War
The nation’s efforts to come to terms with the destruction of slavery and to define the meaning of freedom began during the Civil War. The nation sought to define slavery before the slaves could define it for themselves – he who imposes the terms of enslavement will impose the terms of freedom.
From the war’s outset, the Lincoln administration insisted that restoring the Union was its only purpose and this remained President Lincoln’s stance. However, as military victory eluded the North, the president made the destruction of slavery a weapon of mass destruction against the South; and in January 1863, Lincoln “pushed the button” and unleashed the Emancipation Proclamation.
The Lincoln administration insisted that the preservation of the Union, not the abolition of slavery, was its objective, but as the Union army occupied Southern territory, slaves by the thousands abandoned the plantations. Their actions forced a reluctant Lincoln administration down the road to emancipation.
However, as an old African proverb says, Emancipation from the bondage of the soil is no freedom for the tree.
Emancipation only meant freedom from chattel slavery; it did not mean the enjoyment of human rights.
The meaning of freedom itself became a point of conflict in the Reconstruction South. Former slaves relished the opportunity to flaunt their liberation from the innumerable regulations of slavery.
Immediately after the Civil War, Blacks sought to define their freedom by reuniting families separated under slavery, establishing their own churches and schools, seeking economic autonomy, and demanding equal civil and political rights.
White Southerners, unwilling to accept a new relationship to their former slaves, resorted to violent opposition to the new world being created around them.
From Slave Labor to Free Labor
The most difficult task confronting many Southerners during Reconstruction was devising a new system of labor to replace the shattered world of slavery. The economic lives of planters, former slaves, and non-slaveholding whites, were transformed after the Civil War.
Planters found it hard to adjust to the end of slavery. Accustomed to absolute control over their labor force, many sought to restore the old discipline, only to meet determined opposition from the emancipated Black people, who equated freedom with economic autonomy.
Many former slaves believed that their years of unrequited labor gave them a claim to land; “forty acres and a mule” became their rallying cry. White reluctance to sell to Blacks, and the federal government’s decision not to redistribute land in the South, meant that only a small percentage of the Black people became landowners. Most rented land or worked for wages on white-owned plantations.
The Mississippi Delta was where “cotton was king.” The Delta plantation system started in the nineteenth century when white farmers went there in search of fertile farmland, escaping declining productivity in other Southern states.
They brought with them slaves to do the backbreaking work of clearing the wild forest and subduing the Mississippi River with levees. As a result of the slaves’ labor, the Delta became the richest cotton-farming land in the country.
The Delta stretches 200 beautiful miles – from Memphis, Tennessee, down to Vicksburg, Mississippi.
Slavery and cotton production became synonymous with the Southern economy and Mississippi. Since the Mississippi Delta was the last area of the South to be settled, after the Civil War, the state became among the most reactionary and repressive states for Blacks, who lived with the daily threat and reality of violence.
Although Blacks outnumbered whites, the sharecropping system that replaced slavery helped ensure they remained poor and virtually locked out of any opportunity for land ownership or basic human rights.
Under this system, the sharecropper rented a plot of land and paid for it with a percentage of the crop – usually 30 to 50%.
Sharecroppers would get tools, animals, fertilizer, seeds and food from the landlord’s store and would have to pay him back at incredibly high interest rates. The landlord would determine the crop, supervise production, control the weighing and marketing of cotton, and control the recordkeeping.
According to my cousin, Doris Davis – “It was a hard life, boy. We’d get ten…maybe twelve dollars a bale and we had to work from sun up, to sun down – ‘til we bled – to make that. The school system in Mississippi was even scheduled around the crops; still is.”
At the end of the year, sharecroppers settled accounts by paying what they owed from any earnings made in the field. Since the plantation owners kept track of the calculations, rarely would sharecroppers see a profit.
The End of Reconstruction
In the 1870′s, violent opposition in the South, and the North’s retreat from its commitment to equality, resulted in the end of Reconstruction. By 1876, the nation was prepared to abandon its commitment to equality for all citizens regardless of race.
As soon as blacks gained the right to vote, secret societies sprang up in the South, devoted to restoring white supremacy in politics and social life. Most notorious was the Ku Klux Klan, an organization of violent criminals that established a reign of terror in some parts of the South, assaulting and murdering local Republican leaders.
The North’s commitment to Reconstruction soon waned.
Many Republicans came to believe that the South should solve its own problems without further interference from Washington. Reports of Reconstruction corruption led many Northerners to conclude that black suffrage had been a mistake. When anti-Reconstruction violence erupted again in Mississippi and South Carolina, the Grant administration refused to intervene.
The election of 1876 hinged on disputed returns from Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina, where Republican governments still survived. After intense negotiations involving leaders of both parties, the Republican candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes, became president, while Democrats assumed control of the disputed Southern states. Reconstruction had come to an end.
After slavery ended, railroads and associated companies like the Pullman Car Company became a major employer of Black people.
The story of railroad porters is an important chapter in the history of railroads and the American West. The construction of railroads encouraged large numbers of people to settle in the West.
Many of those settlers were Black people.
Railroad companies barred people of color from holding high-quality jobs. Inventor Elijah McCoy is one example.
McCoy was a descendent of Kentucky slaves who had escaped to Canada with the aid of the Underground Railroad. When he was a child, his family returned to Michigan.
Elijah McCoy studied as an engineer in Scotland but was only able to work as a locomotive fireman upon returning to the United States, despite being issued over 57 patents for his inventions.
The phrase, “the real McCoy,” was created by machine buyers who insisted on purchasing only products designed by the inventor. His name is still associated with authenticity.
For the most part, conductors, engineers, managers and cooks were all white. Blacks were allowed to apply for jobs as porters, dining room attendants, kitchen help and freight handlers. Companies hired African American women as maids and kitchen help. Through their hiring practices, the railroads created one of the most highly institutionalized forms of industrial segregation in the land.
For Black people, being a porter and other service jobs were seen as an improvement over sharecropping, one of the few other opportunities open to blacks at the time.
For many Black people growing up in the South in the 19th and 20th centuries, the threat of lynching was commonplace.
Lynching, an act of terror meant to spread fear among blacks, served the broad social purpose of maintaining white supremacy in the economic, social and political spheres.
Although the practice of lynching existed even before slavery, it gained momentum during Reconstruction, when viable Black towns sprang up across the South and Blacks started to make political and economic inroads by registering to vote, establishing businesses and running for public office.
Many whites – landowners and poor whites – felt threatened by this rise in black prominence.
Lynchings were frequently committed with the most flagrant public display. Like a medieval execution by guillotine, lynchings were often advertised in newspapers and drew large crowds of white families.
Lynchings were covered in local newspapers with headlines spelling out the horrific details. Photos of victims, with exultant white observers posed next to them, were taken for distribution in newspapers or on postcards. Body parts, including genitalia, were sometimes distributed to spectators or put on public display.
Most infractions were for petty crimes, like theft, but the biggest one of all was looking at or associating with white women. Many victims were black businessmen or black men who refused to back down from a fight.
Newspapers even printed that prominent white citizens in local towns attended lynchings, and often published victory pictures – smiling crowds, many with children in tow – standing next to the corpse.
In the South, an estimated two or three blacks were lynched each week in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
With lynching as a violent backdrop in the South, Jim Crow as the law of the land, and the poverty of the sharecropper system, Black people had no recourse.
This Unholy Trinity of repression ensured Black people would remain impoverished, endangered, and without rights or hope.
When I wrote Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman, I wanted to create a retrofuturistic America that was as gritty and brutal as the world described to me by my parents (seen in the photo to your left) and other relatives; a world in which monsters were real…and bore names like Rufus…and Joe-Bob…and Shadrach.
I also, however, wanted to make the book an enjoyable read. My family had it hard in the American South (and North), but we have always been a people who encourage creativity and enjoy a good laugh. So, no doom and gloom for me…just a healthy dose of reality!
I am a Steampunk. I am a Steampunk author. I am a Steamfunkateer. My expression is rooted in Africa and in an America that was not too kind to Blacks, other People of Color, the poor, or women. My roots run deep and are well-nourished and I will forever feast from the fruit of the Echo Tree.
FACING THE FUNK: Renowned Mask-Maker to Create Steamfunk Line!
Carnival is a festive event that typically involves a public celebration or parade, combining elements of a circus, masking and public street party. People commonly dress up in costumes and/or masquerade during the celebrations, which mark an overturning and renewal of daily life.
Widely thought to have originated in 12th Century Rome – with its purpose being to play and eat meat before Ash Wednesday, thus marking the beginning of Catholic Lent – Carnival – also known as Jankunu, particularly in the Caribbean and the Southeastern United States – actually has West African roots much older than its Roman influences.
Spreading from Italy into Spain, Portugal, England, Germany and France, Carnival – by the 15th and 16th centuries – had become a rowdy tradition, featuring boisterous games and masquerades adopted from a variety of late winter and early spring festive practices. It was a time for ritual and play and by engaging in irony, disguise, laughter, and revelry, people sought renewal and growth for themselves and their communities.
The political and industrial revolutions of the 19th century had a significant effect on Carnival celebrations. With newly formed governments perceiving the festivities as civic events, urban street parades became more structured. Groups from different neighborhoods and workers’ guilds competed with one another for the best performances.
In the Caribbean and Southeastern United States, it is an undisputed African engine that propels this form of cultural expression and the African Carnival, or Jankunu has nothing to do with Lent or Christmas.
Every society, however inhibited or repressed, finds occasion for celebration, feasts, festivals, merry-making and the like – it is an aspect of humanity in which we all share. Most societies also have the idea of the masquerade or the costume in one or another form, whether in social or religious ritual, dramatic theater or the stage, or the street parade.
Where Africa and Europe appear to diverge in this respect is in the setting of costumed celebrations.
French, Portuguese English and Spanish colonialists held costumed balls. Individuals wore costumes and the merry-making was largely indoors, though spill-over onto the streets could be expected. It is the same today with the European Carnivals of Quebec, Venice and elsewhere and is also present also in the celebration of Halloween.
By contrast, the African style of celebration called for costumed bands, and for the merry-making focus to be outdoors, rather than indoors, similar to what we see with today’s Caribbean and American Carnivals.
One of the clearest examples of the masquerade in Africa is the Yoruba Egungun Festival. During this festival, every family honors its collective ancestors, and all the members of an extended family lineage wear the same colors, thus constituting a “band”.
From the Egungun celebration also comes a feature that we find prominent in various Caribbean carnivals: throwing talcum powder on fellow masqueraders, from which comes the Trinidadian expression – “you can’t play mas’ and ‘fraid powder!”.
During the Egungun festival people wear masks to show outwardly that they are no longer themselves, that their body has been possessed by an ancestral spirit.
The ancestral spirits of the Yoruba are much more than just dead relatives, they play an active role in the daily life of the living. Believed to provide protection and guidance, there are numerous ways the ancestors communicate with the living, one of the most unique is their manifestation on earth in the form of masked spirits known as Egungun.
Ancient Khemet (Egypt)
The Greek scholar, Herodotus describes – during the 5thCentury – one of the ceremonial processions in Egypt: “… they come in barges, men and women together, a great number in each boat; on the way, some of the women keep up a continual clatter with castanets and some of the men play flutes, while the rest, both men and women, sing and clap their hands. Whenever they pass a town on the river-bank, they bring the barge close in-shore, some of the women continuing to act as I have said, while others shout abuse at the women of the place, or start dancing, or stand up and pull up their skirts. When they reach Bubastis, they celebrate the festival with elaborate sacrifices, and more wine is consumed than during all the rest of the year. The numbers that meet there are, according to native report, as many as seven hundred thousand men and women…”
Sounds like what today we would call a Carnival. Even in regard to Herodotus’ description of women pulling up their skirts, thousands of years later, at Carnival, they do the same thing.
Northern Edo Masquerades
Masking traditions are a major part of the Edo groups of Nigeria, who trace their beginnings to the kingdom of Benin, their neighbors to the south. Basic political units are formed from ritual ties. A council of elders within a number of Masquerade societies forms each small village’s government. Men and women of the Edo people belong to masquerade societies, whose primary responsibilities are to control anti-social forces and help to bring about a better, safer, and well-adjusted community or village.
The best-known of the Edo groups, the Okpella, use a widely varying range of mask types, which, according to some African artists, may take up to a year to complete. The masks that are created by the artist convey many different types of rituals and ceremonies. One example of this is a brilliant, white-faced mask representing “dead mothers”, appearing during the annual Olimi festival, which is held at the end of the dry season, and is worn by dancing kinsmen. This festival, as others do, signifies social control and ancestral reverence, celebrating the transitions of age-grades.
The Otsa festival embraces women dancers in addition to the male masquerade dancers. During the festival, the women come to the dance area with their masquerade celebration to sprinkle white chalk and water, which symbolizes peace and good luck. This festival annually celebrates the feast of Otsa to purify the land and reinforce community solidarity.
In addition to the masks and costumes worn during the masquerades, another vital component is the music and dance used to create the atmosphere that is conducive to capturing the essence of the spirit. The highly sophisticated dance helps expand more of the character being portrayed. Throughout the ceremony, the actions of the dancer may be something entirely different than the person beneath would normally portray. Atmospheric circumstances are another essential element to the success of the masquerade. The right mood and setting add to and enhance the integrity of the performance, inviting the spirits to join. The audience’s participation from the sidelines only adds to the intensity of the masquerade – clapping, singing, and dancing, allowing themselves to feel the spirit’s presence. This strong relationship between human and spirits is the grand hallmark of the Northern Edo Masquerades.
The Caribbean’s Carnivals all have several common themes, many originating from Trinidad and Tobago Carnival which is based on folklore, culture, religion, and tradition. Carnival tradition is based on a number of disciplines including: “Playing Mas”/Masquerade; Calypso Music and crowning a Calypso King or Monarch; Panorama (Steel Band Competition); Jouvert morning; and a number of other traditions.
Jankunu (“Junkanoo”) is a street parade with music that occurs in many towns across The Bahamas every Boxing Day (December 26), New Year’s Day and, more recently, in the summer on the island of Grand Bahamas. The largest Jankunu parade happens in Nassau, the capital. In the USA, there are also Jankunu parades in Miami, in June, Key West, in October and Knoxville, Tennessee in June.
Similar masquerades / street performance traditions, are found on other islands in the Caribbean.
Masks Get Funkdafied
Shay Lhea – owner and product designer of Oculto Steam Masks, which features a wide array of luxury, wearable disguises she considers to be ‘Alter Egos’ – recently discovered Steamfunk after reading a blog I wrote as a guest of author Pip Ballantine’s and Tee Morris’ Aether Feature, from their excellent Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences website.
Shay found Steamfunk fascinating and has decided to create a Steamfunk line of masks. I am looking forward to seeing what she comes up with. I am sure it will be brilliant, as Shay has years of experience using her extraordinary artistic vision, skill and talent in the creation of unique and innovative Steampunk – and many other – styles of masks.
Her adventure began when she journeyed to New Orleans for Mardis Gras and – on a whim – decided to make masks for her herself and for her best friend. Folks from The Big Easy descended upon Shay like ants at a picnic, demanding to know where she purchased such a beautiful mask and how they could buy one. It was then that she realized a mask shop was in her head and desperately needed to escape into reality and voila! Oculto Masks was born!
Oculto creates both ready-to-wear and custom-made Steampunk and carnival/masquerade-style masks.
“I started making masks because witnessing how people felt and acted behind them mesmerized me,” she went on to say.
Shay seeks to use her masks to unmask the human psyche; to “set an artistic platform where truth can be expressed and prevail.” We look forward to her unmasking the psychedelic psyche of the Steamfunkateer.
We will keep you updated as things progress. More funky goodness to come soon!
Milton Davis – Milton Davis is owner/publisher of MVmedia, LLC . As an author he specializes in science fiction and fantasy and is the author of Meji Book One, Meji Book Two and Changa’s Safari. Visit him: www.mvmediaatl.com andwww.wagadu.ning.com .
Ray Dean – Growing up in Hawaii, Ray Dean had the opportunity to enjoy nearly every culture under the sun. The Steamfunk Anthology was an inspiration she couldn’t pass up. Ray can be reached at http://www.raydean.net/.
Malon Edwards – Born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, Malon Edwards now lives in the Greater Toronto Area. Much of his speculative fiction features people of color and is set in his hometown. Malon can be reached ateastofmars.blogspot.com.
Valjeanne Jeffers – is an editor and the author of the SF/fantasy novels: Immortal, Immortal II: The Time of Legend and Immortal III: Stealer of Souls, Immortal IV: Collision of Worlds and The Switch: Clockwork. Visit her at: http://valjeanne.wordpress.com and http://qandvaffordableediting.blogspot.com/ .
Rebecca M. Kyle – With a birthday on Friday 13, it’s only natural that the author is fascinated with myths, legends, and oddities of all kinds. Ms. Kyle lives with her husband, four cats, and more rocks and books than she cares to count between the Smokies and Cumberland mountains. Visit her at http://bexboox13.blogspot.com/.
Carole McDonnell – is a writer of Christian, supernatural, and ethnic stories. Her writings appear in various anthologies, including So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonialism in Science Fiction, edited by Nalo Hopkinson; Jigsaw Nation; and Life Spices from Seasoned Sistahs: Writings by Mature Women of Color among others. Her reviews appear in print and at various online sites. Her novels are the Christian speculative fiction, Wind Follower, and The Constant Tower. Her Bible study is called: Seeds of Bible Study. Her website is http://carolemcdonnell.blogspot.com/.
Balogun Ojetade – Author of the bestselling “Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within” (non-fiction), “Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman” (Steamfunk); “Once Upon A Time in Afrika” (Sword and Soul); “Redeemer” (Urban Fantasy) and the film, “A Single Link” and “Rite of Passage”. Finally, he is Co-Author of “Ki-Khanga: The Anthology” and Co-Editor of “Steamfunk!” Visit him: http://chroniclesofharriet.com/.
Hannibal Tabu – is a writer, a storyteller, and by god, a fan. He has written the novels, “The Crown: Ascenscion” and “Faraway” and the upcoming scifi political thriller “Rogue Nation.” He is currently the co-owner and editor-in-chief of Black geek website Komplicated at the Good Men Project, and uses his Operative Network website (www.operative.net) to publish his poetry, market what he’s doing, rant at the world and emit strangled cries for help.
Geoffrey Thorne – Geoffrey Thorne has written a lot of stuff in a lot of venues and will be writing more in more. It’s his distinct pleasure to take part in another of these groundbreaking anthologies. Thanks for letting me roll with you folks. For more (and God knows why you’d want more) check outhttp://www.geoffreythorne.com/.
AFROFUTURISM-PRESENTISM-PASTISM: Catching up with time in Black Science Fiction!
Or what if you could travel forward into your future and alter your present? Would you?
Most Westerners speak of time travel in science fiction in terms of forward in time or backward in time. In the Western view, an event is a component of time – that time exists as an entity in itself, and it moves. The movement of time is forward, coming from behind us. As time moves, you must use it or lose it. If you do not use it, it is gone.
In the traditional African view of time, one might say that time flows backwards. It flows toward you from the future, and the more or faster the activity, the faster time flows. Time is created, in a sense.
Time is not something in itself. Life is made up of events, defined by relationships. Time is a component of the event.
In the African view, your activity really determines the amount of time that passes. Thus the faster you work, the more time you use. Time is not actually passing; it is simply waiting for you to catch up.
In the traditional Asian view of time, it is believed that what we call the past, present and future are mere illusions – fabrics of space and time, in which all exist seamlessly together. In this view, the future and the past are not any different.
Recent research suggests that, in fact, the present can change the past and the future can change the present. This is known as retrocausality.
Retrocausality has powerful and interesting implications for your life. The opportunity to change something about your present life that was originally set in motion in your past – or, the ability to use the future, even though it hasn’t “happened” yet, from your time-frame, to change something in the present – is a powerful thing. In effect, the results of your choice can be seen before you’ve even made it.
Seeing time, however, from the perspective of retrocausality is helpful with many people in need of psychotherapy and with those who feel “stuck” and unable to change or grow.
If it is, indeed, true that what we label past, present and future are all one, an event in either the past or the future could alter the one we call “the present.” Suppose, then, that you could shift something that occurred in your past, which created your future – which is now the present. Similarly, if you saw your future, based upon what you’re doing right now, and altered that, could it also transform your present?
Time and time travel have also been explored in science fiction and fantasy.
Sent nearly thirty years into the past as an unwilling subject in a time travel experiment, he must save his younger self from the deadly path that forged him into the ruthless killer he now is.
Described as an Urban Fantasy thriller, Redeemer is both gangster saga and science fiction epic.
Retrocausality…explored and experienced on the mean streets of the past, present and future.
Ezekiel uses retrocausality in attempt to change his condition in both the past and the future. Let’s hop into Ezekiel’s shoes for a bit and experience a bit of retrocausality ourselves.
Here are some suggestions:
1. Identify a meaningful turning point or event in your life in which you made a decision or were moved by circumstances to go in one direction vs. another, and that you know forged a path in your life that you wish it hadn’t. It might have concerned a feature of your personality that became reinforced through your behavior, associations, or personal values. Perhaps particular interests that grew or an educational choice you made. Or a relationship you began or committed to.
2. Write down what you wish you had known then and how you would have liked to act differently, in that turning point. Then, envision inhabiting the person you were at that earlier time. Show your earlier self what he/she needs to know or do, right now, in order to shift direction or change in some way. Do this exercise during meditation or a period of quite reflection.
3. Now, envision that you have actually become the person who could have emerged from that earlier shift. Imagine incorporating the emotions, state of mind and capacities that would have resulted. Envision that you are that person you might have been. Reflect on how you can integrate the results of the past you have “changed” into your life in the present. What new intentions or emotions arise within you and what can you do with them? Remember, your experience of reality is constructed within your head, your consciousness. That experience can change by “changing” your past.
4. Next flip this around: Teleport yourself into the future that you desire. Use your imagination to envision the person you would like to be in your future; the person who is already there. From within that person, speak to who you are right now. Tell your present self what you need to alter, change or develop from this immediate moment forward, in order to be pulled to that future version of yourself that you want to become. Doing this reminds you of the vast power – and importance – of having an ideal: a positive vision of something that constantly beckons you and keeps pulling you along the path towards it, as it tells you that it’s already there – or could be.
Upon your return from this jaunt, studies have shown that, to avoid “time-lag”, you should pick up your copy of Redeemer and treat yourself to a great read!
A Two-Fisted Dieselfunk Tale!
Dr. A.C. Jackson dashed into Examination Room Four. His assistant of three years, nurse Rita McCray, crouched by the window. Her face was a mask of fear and shock. “What is it, Rita? What’s wrong?”
“Those rubes have Reverend Mason surrounded in the street!” Nurse McCray cried.
“What?” Dr. Jackson gasped as he ran to the window.
He knelt beside Rita and peered over the window sill.
Four white men – their clothes and boots spotted with dirt and splashes of blood – surrounded a pudgy black man whom Dr. Jackson quickly recognized as Reverend Malcolm Mason, pastor of Third Baptist Church.
“I’m going out there,” Dr. Jackson said, leaping to his feet.
Rita grabbed his wrist and held his hand to her chest. “Dr. Jackson, don’t! You’ll just get yourself killed.”
“I have to do something,” Dr. Jackson said.
“Look out there,” Rita said, thrusting her finger toward the window. “The movie theater…my brother’s grocery store…the hospital…all on fire! Those devils have brought Hell to Greenwood. The best we can do now is lay low until this all blows over.”
An agonized scream tore across the blackened sky.
Dr. Jackson looked out the window in time to see Reverend Mason fall to the ground, blood pouring from a gaping wound in the side of his head.
Dr. Jackson slid down the wall and collapsed onto his haunches. “Damn, too late. Reverend Mason is…”
“I know,” Rita sobbed. “Reverend Mason was a good…”
A loud knock on the front door startled them.
Dr. Mason slowly rose to his feet. “Who?”
“Don’t go to the door,” Rita whispered.
“I have to,” Dr. Jackson replied. “Someone might need my help.”
He sauntered toward the door.
Another knock – this one stronger than the first – shook the mahogany door.
“Who is it?” Dr. Jackson called.
“My friend here is hurt and needs some medicine,” a nasal voice replied.
“You don’t sound like a negro,” Dr. Jackson said.
“You don’t either, boy,” the man on the other side of the door snickered.
“Please, go away,” Dr. Jackson shouted.
“Look, just give us some bandages and some medicine to stop pain and we’ll leave you and your place untouched,” the man replied. “We ain’t gonna hurt you, boy. Now open up!”
“Hold on,” Dr. Jackson said as he ran to a metal cabinet at the rear of the lobby of his practice. He yanked the cabinet door open and then withdrew two rolls of cloth bandages and a small jar filled with an amber cream.
Rita crept out of the examination room.
Dr. Jackson waved his hand toward the examination room as he shook his head. “Hide!”
Rita scurried back into Examination Room Four.
Dr. Jackson unlocked the front door and then opened it. He stepped outside and closed the door behind him.
Standing before the doctor were two men. One, he recognized from the Tulsa Star newspaper as Earl May, owner of May’s Masks, who was exonerated of the rape of a nine year old black girl. The other man, while dressed in soiled overalls and reeking of alcohol and sweat like his partner, seemed out of place. His brunette hair was immaculately groomed, his teeth were perfectly straight and there was not one blemish on his tan skin.
Neither man appeared to be injured at all.
Dr. Jackson extended the medical supplies toward Earl May. “Here you go. The salve is my own concoction; a mixture of arnica, camphor and brandy.”
“Now, that’s a shine for you,” the well-groomed man chuckled. “Smart and stupid all at the same time.”
“What? What do you mean?” Dr. Jackson asked.
Earl May leered at Dr. Jackson in a way that made the doctor feel like a rabbit that had just burrowed into a den of foxes.
“You should have stayed inside, boy,” Earl May said.
Dr. Jackson tossed the bandages and salve into Earl May’s face and then spun on his heels and darted toward the door.
A loud boom rent the air.
A searing pain clawed its way through the doctor’s calf.
Dr. Jackson collapsed onto one knee.
A second shot struck Dr. Jackson’s lower back. He collapsed onto his side.
The doctor rolled onto his back, desperately grasping at consciousness yet feeling it slip between his fingers.
Dr. Jackson scooted toward the door, leaving a trail of blood in his wake.
The well-groomed man stomped the heel of his boot down into Dr. Jackson’s chest. “Do shines go to the same Hell as the white man? Why don’t you write me and let me know.”
Fire erupted from the muzzle of the well-groomed man’s revolver.
Waves of darkness and silence swept over the good doctor. His vision faded…his heart fluttered…and he was gone – taken by the waves to the land of Forever-Night.
“Is this…Heaven?” Dr. Jackson whispered.
“No, it is not.”
The voice was soft, yet strong, like a brass dinner bell. It did not, however, ring in his ears, but in the depths of his mind.
Dr. Jackson swallowed hard. “Hell, then?”
A soothing chime rang in his head. The rhythm and tone of the chime gave Dr. Jackson the feeling that it was giggling.
“Not Hell, either,” the chiming voice sang. “You are at the crossroad between the realm of the quick and that of the dead.”
“And where are you?” Dr. Jackson said. “Please, show yourself.”
“Do you not see me?” The voice inquired. “Here, let me come a bit closer.”
The miniscule point of light flew toward Dr. Jackson until he could finally make out its shape.
“A scythe,” the voice chimed. “The scythe, actually. My name is Ikukulu.
“The scythe?” Dr. Jackson asked.
“Of Death,” Ikukulu answered.
“And you talk?”
“If not, you’re insane; you are holding a conversation with me, after all,” Ikukulu replied.
“True,” Dr. Jackson said, nodding in agreement. “So, am I dead?”
“Very,” Ikukulu answered. “However, I brought you here to offer you a second chance at life.”
“How? Why?” Dr. Jackson asked.
“When I venture out with my master to gather the dead, I am always amazed – and somewhat puzzled, I must admit – by the struggle you mortals put up to stay alive,” Ikukulu replied. “Life and Death are merely phases of existence, yet you cling to Life as if it is the most precious thing in creation. I want to experience Life in the way you do in hopes that I might one day understand.”
“And just what do you need me for?”
“I want to become one with your Ori Inu – your subconscious mind,” Ikukulu replied. “Doing so will allow me to feel what you feel; do what you do; be who you are. In exchange, I will grant you life…and a portion of my power, so you can avenge your death and the deaths of all those people in the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma.”
“Just agree and I will return you to the realm of the quick posthaste.”
“I…I agree,” Dr. Jackson whispered.
“Excellent!” Ikukulu sang.
The tiny scythe flew into the gaping gunshot wound in Dr. Jackson’s skull.
A cold, white light fell over Dr. Jackson like a blanket. He felt himself moving through something thick and gummy and dank.
A moment later, he was on his knees in the doorway of the torched remains of his practice.
Dr. Jackson pulled himself to his feet and perused his surroundings. Most of the shops, churches and schools were burned to the ground. The sky was black with smoke and great craters dotted the streets. Not one living soul – besides the doctor – was anywhere to be seen.
Dr. Jackson sprinted across the street toward where West’s Funeral Home used to sit. He stopped at a chocolate-colored hearse that was parked in the driveway and peeked through the driver’s window. The key was in the ignition, where old man West always left it.
Dr. Jackson opened the driver’s door. He caught a quick glimpse of his reflection in the lantern mounted on the side of the hearse. He snapped his head toward the lantern and stared – in shock – at his reflection. The bullet wound in his forehead was closed and not even a scar was evident. He appeared to be fifteen years younger than his forty-six years of age and his salt-and-pepper hair was now jet-black.
He rubbed his fingers across his smooth cheeks, shaking his head in disbelief. “A second chance at life, indeed.”
Dr. Jackson slid into the driver’s seat of the hearse and turned the key. The car coughed and spat in protest and then came to life.
Dr. Jackson hit the accelerator and the hearse sped off, leaving behind his beloved ‘Negro Wall Street.’
Dr. Jackson brought the hearse to a stop across the street from May’s Masks.
The street was quiet. The smell of baked bread, engine oil and iron assaulted his nostrils.
He crept toward the dimly lit mask shop. When he was within a foot of the door, he felt a slight tug on his insides, as if his internal organs were being pulled by lines of fishing wire. He did not resist the pull as it grew stronger, the pull becoming a hard yank.
And then, he vanished in a cloud of dirt, which reeked of decay, mildew and muck.
A moment later, he reappeared inside of Earl May’s shop.
The corners of Dr. Jackson’s mouth curled upward into a smile. Thanks to Ikukulu – the Scythe – he now had power and he was eager to show Earl May just how much.
A low, clanking noise issued from the back room.
Dr. Jackson crept toward the sound until before him sat Earl May, pounding away at a Death’s-head mask formed of tin.
Lost in his work and with his back to Dr. Jackson, May took no notice as the doctor sauntered toward him.
“Nice work,” Dr. Jackson whispered.
May leapt to his feet and turned to face Dr. Jackson with his hammer raised high above his head. “Who the hell?”
May’s eyes widened in shock as he recognized the man standing before him, his suit caked in blood and reeking of death. “No…it can’t be! We killed you!”
Earl May brought the hammer down.
Doctor Jackson raised his arm to block the blow.
The hammer slammed into the doctor’s forearm with a loud crack.
The head of the hammer flew across the room as the hammer’s haft shattered.
To Dr. Jackson, the strike felt no more bothersome than a blow from a rolled up newspaper.
The doctor countered with a strike of his own, his fist flying into Earl May’s chest like a cannonball.
The mask maker slid backward, coming to an abrupt stop when his back collided with the wall behind him.
May collapsed onto his knees, clutching at his chest as he struggled to suck in quick, erratic breaths between his slack and drooling lips.
“Can’t breathe, eh?” Dr. Jackson said as he crept toward Earl May. “Your sternum is fractured. Tell me the name of the man who shot me in the head and I’ll fix you right up.”
May lowered his gaze. A line of spittle fell onto his lap.
Dr. Jackson drove his knee into May’s bicep.
May screamed in agony as the bones in his upper arm shattered from the pulverizing force of the blow.
“I will break every bone in your boorish body if you don’t tell me the man’s name right now.”
“Okay, okay!” May cried. “He’s my cousin…lives in Atlanta, Georgia…”
“His name!” Dr. Jackson hissed.
“Woodruff,” Earl May gasped. “Ernest Woodruff.”
A beautiful woman, with cinnamon skin and a strut like a lioness on the hunt, stormed into A.C. Jackson’s office.
“What’s wrong, Marie?” The doctor asked.
“That Scythe cat hit another Coca-Cola truck, Dr. Cygnet,” she replied, calling him by the name he had worn since relocating to Atlanta a little over a year ago.
“Scythe?” the doctor inquired, feigning ignorance.
“That’s what all the newspapers are calling him,” Marie replied. “He keeps sabotaging Coca-Cola shipments, setting the trucks on fire…terrorizing the drivers. Deliveries to pharmacies are late as hell. I ordered a crate a week ago and still haven’t gotten it.”
Marie’s curly, brown hair danced upon her shoulders as she shook her head. “I can’t run a pharmacy without Coca-Cola! Applesauce!”
“Negroes need to get together and we make our own fountain drink,” Dr. ‘Cygnet’ said.
“Earl Woodruff would burn Auburn Avenue to the ground if we tried that,” Marie said. “There wouldn’t be a…applesauce! I am so sorry, Dr. Cygnet.
“It’s okay,” Dr. Cygnet replied.
“No, it’s not,” Marie sighed, lowering her gaze. “After all you went through in Tulsa…I should have been more sensitive to that.”
“If you didn’t speak your mind, you wouldn’t be you, Marie,” Dr. Cygnet said, gently raising her chin with the tips of his fingers. “Don’t change that; it’s one of the things everyone loves about you.”
The doctor kissed Marie on the forehead.
Marie’s cheeks reddened. “Well, ain’t you the bee’s knees?!”
“And the cat’s meow,” Dr. Cygnet said, walking toward the door. “And for the hundredth time, call me Jerry…we’re partners.”
“Negro doctors don’t get the recognition they deserve,” Marie said. “So, I want the world to give you your due. Besides, one day, you’re gonna be my husband, so I wanna show you off.”
“Your husband?” Dr. Cygnet chuckled. “We haven’t even gone out to dinner yet.”
“I guess we’d better do something about that, then,” Marie said.
“How about this Friday? Dr. Cygnet asked. “At the Municipal Market?”
“It’s a date,” Marie replied.
Dr. Cygnet nodded, tossed his fedora onto his head and stepped a foot out of the door. “I have a house-call; if it runs long, I will see you in the morning.”
“Be safe, Doc’,” Marie said.
“Always,” Dr. Cygnet replied as he left the office. “Safer than Citizen’s Trust.”
The tin Death’s-head mask he had taken from Earl May’s shop – now tarnished a dull grey – turned each exhalation from his nostrils into an eerie, metallic hiss.
The mask, his mahogany, leather vest, mahogany denim trousers, dark brown boots and worn leather gaiters gave him the appearance of a militant Papa Ghede – the Haitian Vodoun spirit of the grave. A fitting image for the Scythe of Death.
A flash of red and white whizzed by the hearse.
The Scythe whipped the hearse onto Peachtree Street and he took off behind the speeding truck.
He slammed the heel of his combat boot down onto the accelerator as his gloved hand shifted the hearse into high gear.
The vehicle flew down Peachtree Street like a bullet fired from a carbine, quickly closing on the Coca-Cola truck.
The Scythe cut the wheel hard as the hearse came upon the truck’s left flank.
The hearse slammed into the side of the truck.
The truck swerved to the right, squealing as its driver tried to right the vehicle.
The Scythe slammed the hearse into the truck’s flank once more.
The smell of burnt rubber filled the air as the truck’s brakes and wheels struggled against the hearse’s onslaught.
The truck came to a crashing halt, its right side bending around the thick trunk of an old oak tree.
The Scythe parked the hearse a few feet behind the truck and then hopped out onto the dark street.
He vanished in a putrid cloud of dirt and then appeared a moment later at the driver’s side door of the Coca-Cola truck. He dug his fingers into the door and then ripped it off its frame.
With a snap of his wiry arms, the door somersaulted through the air, crashing to the ground several yards away.
The Scythe reached into the truck, wrapping his fingers around the dazed driver’s neck.
“No, please,” the driver cried.
The Scythe yanked the driver out of the truck and tossed him onto the pavement.
He waved his hand across the driver’s face. A second later, the driver went pale and he began to thrust his palms before and above him, as if he was trying to escape from an invisible box.
“No! Let me out of here!” The driver shouted. “The walls…closing in…can’t…breathe…can’t…”
The Scythe of Death stepped around to the back of the truck. He studied the large padlock that secured the sliding door. With one stomp, the lock snapped and fell to the ground. He pushed the door upward and inspected its contents. Inside were forty wooden crates, all marked with the Coca-Cola logo.
The Scythe stacked three of the crates on top of each other and then carried them to the back of the hearse, where he loaded them in.
He then withdrew a stick of dynamite and a match from the hearse. He struck the match on the palm of his glove and used it to light the stick of dynamite.
He tossed the explosive into the back of the Coca-Cola truck and then leapt into the hearse and sped off.
He peered at his side mirror and watched the Coca-Cola truck erupt into a ball of fire.
A metallic laugh hissed from the mask as The Scythe sped away into the night.
Ernest Woodruff pounded his fist onto his redwood desk. “Find him; give him the Broderick and then bring his battered body to me so I can lay eyes on that hatchet man’s mug before I bash it in!”
“No disrespect, but that won’t be easy, boss,” the driver from the previous night’s attack by the Scythe of Death said.
“What?” Woodruff spat.
“Like I said, no disrespect meant, Mr. Woodruff,” the driver said, his blistered face leaking pus onto the collar of his uniform shirt. “But the Scythe…he ain’t no ordinary lug. The way he moves…the things he can do…it’s like he’s magic or somethin’.”
“Magic, huh?” Woodruff said. “Well, if he is magic, he will be brought down by the best magician money can buy.”
“Harry Houdini?” The driver asked.
“No, Houdini is an escape artist…a prestidigitator,” Woodruff replied. “I’m talking about real magic…and a real magician…Dai Vernon.”
“Someone is in a good mood,” Dr. Cygnet said.
“When I got here, I found not one crate of Coca-Cola at our door, but three!” Marie said. “Ain’t that the bee’s knees?!”
“It certainly is,” Dr. Cygnet replied. “How did this minor miracle happen?”
“I don’t know,” Marie said. “I’m just grateful that…”
The door flew open, interrupting them. Two men entered – one, dressed in a tailored, navy-blue silk suit and a navy blue Hamburg hat. The other, dressed in a Coca-Cola uniform – and approached Marie and the doctor.
Doctor Cygnet recognized the man in uniform as the driver of the Coca-Cola truck he attacked the previous night.
“How can we help you, gentlemen?” Dr. Cygnet asked.
“The shine…umm…shoeshine man who works in the lobby of our place of employment told us the pharmacist here sells an over-the-counter salve that works wonders on burns and for pain,” the man in the suit replied. “As you can see, my friend here is in need.”
“Well, then, follow me,” Marie said, walking toward her section of the practice.
The men followed closely behind Marie, admiring her curvy body as she glided behind her glass display case.
Inside the case were several bottles of medicine, jars of salve and bottles of Coca-Cola.
“I see you work for Coca-Cola,” Marie said, nodding toward the driver’s shirt.
“Yes, I do,” the driver said. “We both do. My name’s Mr. Wallace and this here’s Mr. Wilson.
“Pleased to meet you both,” Marie said. “I’m Marie; Marie Lefleur. Thank Mr. Woodruff for me, won’t you?”
“Thank him for what?” Mr. Wilson asked.
“For the two extra crates of Coca-Cola that was shipped to me,” Marie answered. “I figure the company did it to make up for the late shipment. Nice touch.”
Mr. Wallace and Mr. Wilson exchanged glances.
“Well, here you go,” Marie said, placing a jar of white cream on top of the display case. “That’ll be two dollars.”
Mr. Wilson slid a five dollar note across the counter toward Marie and then picked up the jar of salve. “Keep the change.”
Marie plucked the note from the counter and slipped it into the pocket of her frock.
The men turned and headed toward the door.
“See you around,” Mr. Wallace said over his shoulder.
“You’d better hope not,” Dr. Cygnet said, stepping out of the shadows in the lobby.
“What’s that?” Mr. Wilson inquired, leering at Dr. Cygnet.
“If you see us again, that would mean you suffered some sort of trauma…some sort of calamity,” Dr. Cygnet replied.
“I suppose so,” Mr. Wilson said, opening the door. “Have a great day.”
“You, too,” Dr. Cygnet said.
The men left the office, allowing the door to slam behind them.
The door creaked open.
Marie snapped her head toward the door. “I’m sorry, we’re closed.”
Mr. Wilson – and two more equally well-dressed men – sauntered into the office.
“Doctor Lefleur, right?” Mr. Wilson said. “These are my colleagues – Mr. Pratt and Mr. Turner.
“It’s Miss Lefleur,” Marie said. “I have a Doctorate degree in Pharmacy, so technically, yes; however, I am not a medical doctor and – not to be rude – but as I said before, we’re closed for the evening, so if you’ll please follow me…”
“What’s the rush?” Wilson asked. “Got a hot date?”
“Actually, I do,” Marie replied. “Now, please, go.”
Mr. Pratt and Mr. Turner lurched forward and grabbed Marie’s arms.
“We’re going,” Mr. Wilson said. “And you’re coming with us.”
“Let me go, damn it!” Marie screamed.
“Shut your mouth, smoke,” Mr. Wilson spat. “Or I’ll skin your black…”
“The lady said let her go.”
Wilson whirled around toward the metallic, hissing voice.
The Scythe stood in the doorway, the setting sun forming an eerie, silver-crimson aura around him.
“And if we don’t?” Mr. Wilson asked.
“Then, I’ll do this…” the Scythe of Death whispered, vanishing in a cloud of dirt.
Half a heartbeat later, he appeared an inch from Mr. Pratt’s back.
The Scythe wrapped his arms around Mr. Pratt’s neck and then vanished with him. The air within the lobby was replaced with foul-smelling dirt, which left Marie, Mr. Wilson and Mr. Turner gagging and unable to see more than an inch in front of their faces.
Mr. Pratt’s tortured screams tore through the putrid cloud. Mr. Turner jumped at the blood-curdling din.
Marie snatched her arm from Mr. Turner’s grasp, dropped to her knees and – using her familiarity with the environment in lieu of her vision – crawled to her counter and took refuge behind it.
Mr. Wilson and Mr. Turner stumbled out of the office and onto Auburn Avenue, coughing the rank dirt out of their lungs and brushing it from their clothes.
The Scythe appeared before them.
“Where’s Pratt?” Mr. Turner spat as he thrust his thick fingers into his suit jacket.
The Scythe exploded forward, driving his elbow into Mr. Turner’s collarbone.
Mr. Turner screamed as his hand slid out of his jacket and fell to his side. His revolver hit the ground with a metallic thud as his arm bounced lifelessly against his thigh.
“That is a fractured clavicle,” Lazarus said, pointing at the bulge in Mr. Turner’s collar. “And this…”
The Scythe thrust the heel of his boot downward into Mr. Turner’s knee.
A sickening din – like the trunk of an old oak snapping under the force of a gale wind – followed.
Mr. Turner collapsed onto his back, screaming in agony.
“…is a torn lateral meniscus.”
“You crazy son-of-a-bitch!” Wilson drew his revolver and squeezed the trigger.
The Scythe vanished just before the bullet met its mark.
He appeared before Wilson, thrusting his arm forward. The tips of his fingers speared Wilson’s throat.
Wilson staggered backward, clutching at his crushed windpipe.
A burning sensation suddenly shot across the back of The Scythe’s upper arm. He stared at it. A trail of blood spiraled down his forearm out of a thin gash in the flesh of his triceps.
He perused the area for his attacker.
A black Rolls Royce Silver Ghost limousine sat in the middle of the street.
A cabin door of the limousine opened. A man, dressed in a black, tailcoat tuxedo, exited the vehicle. In one hand, he held his top-hat, which he slowly slid onto his head. In the other hand, he held a deck of cards, which were spread like a fan.
The man drew a card and – with a flick of his wrist – hurled it at The Scythe.
The Scythe lunged sideways.
The card zipped past him, striking the door of the doctor’s office. One corner of the card embedded itself deep into it.
He looked over his shoulder at the card – the tarot card of Death.
“Good evening, sir,” the man said, bowing with a dramatic tip of his top-hat. “Please, allow me to introduce myself. I am Dai Vernon…magician extraordinaire.”
The Scythe replied with a sweeping wave of his hand.
Mr. Wilson and Mr. Turner forgot their pain as they were ensnared in the crushing grip of fear.
Both men wailed in terror as they struggled to escape the stifling confines of some invisible grave.
Dai Vernon fell to his knees, his breathing shallow; his eyes wide with consternation.
The magician fumbled with his cards. With trembling fingers, he drew one from the deck. He licked the back of the card and then slapped it onto his forehead.
Lazarus peered at the card – an illustration of a broadsword with a golden crown hovering over it – the Ace of Swords.
The card seemed to shift; to liquefy. Its edges melted into Dai Vernon’s forehead, becoming one with the tanned flesh. The sword and the crown oozed into the shape of a closed, vertical eye. The eye blinked several times and then opened wide. Vernon no longer appeared to be afraid.
The magician stood and – with rapid flicks of his wrist – unleashed a volley of tarot cards.
The cards sped toward the Scythe of Death, whistling as they cut through the night air.
The Scythe disappeared in a cloud of dirt.
He reappeared before Dai Vernon and then lunged forward, driving the side of his head into the magician’s nose.
Dai Vernon staggered backward, a web of blood spreading across his face.
The Scythe exploded forward, whipping his left leg in a wide arc. His shin slammed into Vernon’s abdomen.
The magician flew backward, landing, with a thud, on the hood of the limousine. A trickle of blood fell from the corner of his mouth.
“That pain you feel is a ruptured liver,” The Scythe said, appearing over the magician. He raised his fists above his head. “The pain you are about to feel is your face being pulverized into dust.”
The Scythe brought his fists down with frightful force. His fists, however, met only the magician’s tuxedo and top-hat, which Dai Vernon was no longer in.
The hood of the limousine collapsed under the force of The Scythe’s blow. The front tires issued a loud popping sound and then hissed in protest as they fell flat.
He spun toward a rustling sound behind him.
Standing before him was Dai Vernon, now dressed in a white, double-breasted suit, white shoes and a white fedora. A red rose sat in hi lapel.
Vernon held up his fists. Between each finger protruded a tarot card. The cards were fused with the flesh, forming rectangular claws.
The magician smiled and then sprang forward, slashing furiously with his ‘tarot-claws’.
The Scythe parried and evaded the blows with feline grace.
One strike, however, met its mark, rending his glove and opening a deep gash in the back of his hand.
Another strike ripped open the flesh on his chest.
The Scythe grabbed Vernon’s wrist and pulled him forward and off his feet.
Dai Vernon stumbled forward.
The Scythe hammered his fist into the middle of Vernon’s forearm.
The magician’s arm made a loud, snapping noise as it bent upward at an odd angle.
Dai Vernon shrieked in agony.
He twisted Vernon’s wrist and forcefully pushed the magician’s fist toward his own chin. He swiped the magician’s claws across his own neck, slitting Dai Vernon’s throat.
Blood sprayed from the wound in a wide arc and then rained down on the magician’s suit, polka-dotting it with splotches of red.
The Scythe of Death vanished in a cloud of dirt as Dai Vernon fell, lifeless, onto the pavement.
He appeared in the lobby of the doctor’s office. “Ms. Lefleur?”
Marie rose from behind her counter, her fists raised below her chin. “Come on, then. Let’s dance!”
“I mean you no harm, Ms. Lefleur,” he said. “Don’t you have somewhere to be?”
“Actually, I do,” Marie replied. “But thanks to you, my dress is all covered in stinky dirt now, so…”
“Go home and change,” The Scythe said. “I am sure he will still be waiting for you when you reach your destination.”
“He?” Marie’s eyes widened with shock. “How do you…”
“As dolled-up as you are…it has to be for a ‘he’,” The Scythe said. “Now, go; and don’t fret, these men won’t darken your door ever again.”
Marie went to the door and peeked outside. “Dang, I guess they won’t. Your handiwork?”
“Okay, then,” Marie said, stepping out the door.
She poked her head back into the lobby. “Thanks.”
“Go,” The Scythe whispered.
Marie’s head vanished from view. A moment later, the door slammed shut with a loud bang.
“I gotta get that fixed,” The Scythe said, shaking his head.
And then he vanished in a cloud of dirt.
THE MAKING OF A STEAMFUNK FEATURE FILM: The Big Budget Version
I am – at present – writing the final draft of Rite of Passage – a screenplay based on the Steamfunk series of tales, Rite of Passage, which are based on author Milton Davis’ story of the same title.
The movie will begin production in the fall.
Recently, I was asked if I had a budget of one hundred million dollars, who would play the characters in the film. Since my wife has one of the lead roles as Harriet Tubman, I of course said I would keep my wife in the role of Harriet Tubman – for one, I don’t feel like sleeping on the couch; secondly, I honestly feel she has the look, toughness and movie martial arts skills required to pull off the role better than anyone else I can think of.
Another role I would not change is that of Dorothy Wright, played by Dasie Thames. Dasie is an exceptional actor and singer with extensive experience on the stage and screen. During our fighting and stunt boot camp – wherein we teach actors to look like warriors, soldiers, assassins and professional fighters; and professional martial artists and fighters to modify their techniques so they look good on camera, or before a live audience – Dasie picked up fight choreography with ease and, within just two hours of the camp, she was convincing as a character who had received several years of hard training in the martial arts.
As for the other roles, after long contemplation, I came up with a list.
I give you my Rite of Passage Dream Team and a peak into the main and main supporting characters of the very first Steamfunk feature film. Enjoy!
Spy, warrior and hunter of monsters and men who even monsters fear. Harriet Tubman is a conductor for the Underground Railroad, which, in the world of Rite of Passage, means she has powers, skills and access to technology far beyond the average person.
Harriet Tubman is iron-fisted mentor to the likes of John Henry and Sherlock Holmes and is self-appointed protector of the town of Nicodemus, Kansas – a western town established by African-Americans during the Reconstruction Period following the American Civil War.
ACTOR: Iyalogun Ojetade
Bass Reeves’s life story is a true saga of commitment and contribution. It is a real Wild West story that very few fiction writers could have ever imagined. Bass Reeves’s law enforcement career was a testimony to a life of truth, honesty, and justice.
A badass of the highest order, Bass Reeves became a Deputy U.S. Marshal in 1875 at the age of 38. During his 32-year career as a Deputy Marshal, Reeves was responsible for the arrest of 3,000 violent felons and for killing 14 outlaws, without ever being shot.
Reeves possesses uncanny skills of detection and investigation, an acerbic wit and three firearms – a Sharp’s carbine and a pair of Colt revolvers – that enable him to kill the unkillable.
ACTOR: Jeffrey Wright
Admit it; like me, you’ve always wanted to see the Steel Drivin’ Man kick more than just a steam-powered hammer’s ass. Many an author, comic book creator and Steampunk have re-imagined John Henry’s story and in every one, I bet mountains of opened cans of whoop-ass abound.
In Rite of Passage, John Henry has a dark past, a tortured present and an epic future.
He – and his hammers – thirsts for battle and as guardian of the town of Nicodemus – a seeming magnet for trouble and weird happenings – his cup runneth over.
ACTOR: Mehcad Brooks
A student of Harriet Tubman, who helped her escape through the Underground Railroad, Dottie trained diligently for years in the arts of combat, espionage, survival and escape. Dottie – now Dorothy – has become quite the soldier and freedom fighter in her own right and possessor of an ancient artifact that gives her some extraordinary abilities.
ACTOR: Dasie Thames (Dorothy); Sydney Park (Dottie)
Mr. Ross – hired gun for ruthless businessman, P.T. Barnum – spent years as Allen Pinkerton’s executive assistant (i.e. corporate spy and fixer) before hiring himself out to the highest bidder. Skilled in investigation, assassination, provocation, interrogation and a host of other useful “ations”, Ross is one of the most valued – and feared – “fixers” in America.
A keeper of his clients’ secrets, Ross, ironically, must keep a secret of his own; a secret that – if told before its proper time – could destroy us all.
ACTOR: Nathan Fillion
Beautiful, brilliant and wise, Lana is a woman John Henry could fall for, if she didn’t scare the hell out of him.
Lana is like a drill sergeant on steroids, but to make a man as hard as steel, can you be anything less?
ACTOR: Regina King
Mysterious; unstoppable; powerful beyond measure. This description just scratches the surface of who – or what – this ebon-skinned giant is. Harriet Tubman’s teacher and friend and guardian of one of the oldest and most powerful artifacts on the planet, Akingbe has lived several lifetimes and fought countless wars.
Battle hardened and world weary, Akingbe seeks to pass his burden on to another poor soul.
ACTOR: Djimon Hounsou
THE NEXT BIG THING: Steamfunk, Sword & Soul and The Haunting of Truth High
The rules of this blog hop are simple and sweet: 1. Answer ten questions about your current Work In Progress on your blog; 2. Tag five writers / bloggers and add links to their pages so we can hop along to them next.
So, here goes – enjoy!
What is the working title of your book?
The working title of my next novel is The Haunting of Truth High.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
Even though I am known for writing Steamfunk, Sword and Soul and Urban Fantasy, I am a horror writer at heart. I have always wanted to write a horror novel. I am also the father of seven daughters and a son. Six of my eight children read Young Adult Fiction and have asked when I will write something in that genre. A marriage of horror and YA fiction happened in my head and voila…The Haunting of Truth High was born.
What genre does your book fall under?
The Haunting of Truth High is Young Adult Horror Fiction, however, I’ve made it deep enough that adults will enjoy it too.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
The main character, Renay is a beautiful, intelligent and talented teen, who is very popular in and outside of school. Her life, however, is troubled and in turmoil. Renay discovers she is a warrior, born with the power to slay ghosts and other vengeful spirits. The role would require a young actress who possesses depth, but also can take on the demands of a very physical and gritty role. I think Keke Palmer would be the perfect Renay.
Her love interest, Shawn, who introduces Renay to the dark and frightening spectral world, hides a dark secret. Although he is young, he was raised by ghost hunters, so he has experienced things most of the world has only had nightmares about. This has made him wise beyond his years, fearless and a bit stoic; however, he is also charismatic, witty and the epitome of cool. Corbin Bleu would make a great Shawn.
Renay’s autistic half-brother, Ricky, has the ability to see ghosts. While he cannot speak, he can draw nearly perfect illustrations of people with uncanny speed. Such a role would require an actor who can show emotions and evoke feelings without saying a word. Kyle Massey is perfect for the role of Ricky.
Finally, the main antagonist, Mr. Newsome, while appearing to be a lovable but firm band instructor, is sinister, creepy and the literally feeds off pain, sorrow and hatred. I would cast Phill Lewis in this frightening role.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A girl, whose life falls apart after the death of her father, discovers her true calling as a ghost hunter when her high school is overrun by vengeful spirits that feed on human emotions.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
The Haunting of Truth High will be self-published through my new publishing company, Roaring Lions Productions.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I am still writing it. I should have the first draft complete by May.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
While there are other works of Young Adult Horror Fiction, I would say the closest comparison would be Devil’s Wake, by Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes. Devil’s Wake, while a YA novel is still scary as hell and is a great read for older folks as well. In those ways, The Haunting of Truth High is similar, even though the premises are quite different.
Who or What inspired you to write this book?
I was inspired by my love for horror movies, television and fiction and for my desire for my children to have more books with heroes who look and think like them.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
For those who read my Steamfunk, Urban Fantasy and Sword and Soul stories, you know my writing style. It is very visual, visceral, witty, and a bit frightening at times. Well, I am truly a horror writer at heart, so with The Haunting of Truth High, I went all out with the chills and thrills. Also, as a man with children who are voracious readers of YA fiction, I am intimately familiar with the YA genre and know what makes a YA book great. I also know and understand teens’ desires, goals and fears, which allows me to spin a tale that is scary, but at the same time, has heart.
Below are the links to the next chain of authors. Be sure to bookmark their sites and add their new releases to your calendars.
STEAMFUNK DEBUTS AT ANACHROCON 2013!
This is an exciting week for me. The greatest cosmological event of all time, in my humble opinion – my bEARTHday – is February 21. You are all invited to join me in celebration. In honor of that august day (can it be august in February?), complimentary drinks are on me!
Immediately following the celebration of my 25th solar return – that’s right, I said 25th (I am a Fantasy writer, after all) – is the long-awaited release of the Steamfunk anthology!
We will debut Steamfunk at AnachroCon on February 22, 2013. For those who don’t know, AnachroCon is, by their own definition, “the premier place in the Southern United States for people to celebrate Historical Reenacting, Alternate History, Steampunk, Sciences, Horror, Etiquette & Indulgence, Fashion, Fabrication, Literature & Media, Costuming and socialize with people of like minds.” Sounds like fun…and this year, AnachroCon gets fun-ky, as thousands of Steamfunkateers converge upon the convention to witness the unveiling of an anthology chock-full-o’ steamy and funky goodness!
To help us celebrate, the good folks at AnachroCon have given Steamfunk Co-Editor, Milton Davis, a table, where contributing authors to Steamfunk will sign books and hand out free hugs and handshakes. They have also made me a Guest and I will have the pleasure of speaking on a panel or two.
So, come on by and let’s funk up AnachroCon!
Following is a list of Funkateers and their Funktastic contributions to the Steamfunk Anthology:
Ronald T. Jones – Benjamin’s Freedom Magic
Malon Edwards – Mud Holes and Mississippi Mules
Hannibal Tabu – The Sharp Knife of a Short Life
P. Djeli Clark – Men in Black
Geoffrey Thorne – The Tunnel at the End of Light
Ray Dean – A Will of Steel
Kochava Greene – The Refuge
Carole McDonnell – Oh, Western Wind
Rebecca McFarland Kyle – Once a Spider
Josh Reynolds – The Lion Hunters
Melvin Carter – Tough Night in Tommyville
Valjeanne Jeffers – The Switch
Balogun Ojetade – Rite of Passage: Blood and Iron
Milton Davis – The Delivery
The Coldest Wynter Ever
A Lesson Learned; A Tale of Terror
I have always had a heart for – and spoken in defense of – the downtrodden; the victimized; the rejected and the despised. I have never turned my nose up at a homeless person, or looked down upon those less fortunate than myself. I think of myself as one of the “good guys” and good guys defend the weak and help those in need.
It is easy, however, to “speak out against”, or “speak up for”, however to act on behalf of is quite another thing entirely and not so easy at all.
I learned this nearly two decades ago, while discussing the plight of the homeless in Chicago. I was scolding a group of brothers for not being “grassroots” enough; for not speaking out against homelessness and for not working together to erect a shelter for homeless women and children.
One of my closest friends pulled me aside after my tirade and told me he liked what I said and agreed that we must take an active stance in helping the homeless. He then asked if I’d like to go see Pulp Fiction – his treat. With dark comedies – especially ones with professional assassins – at the top of my list of favorite types of movies, how could I refuse?
On the way to the movies, my friend, who insisted that he drive, said he had to make a quit stop. He then proceeded to head toward downtown Chicago – the opposite direction from the movie theater we frequented.
“Where are we headed?” I asked.
“I have to drop something off to some old friends of mine,” my friend replied.
We reached Wacker Drive, the famed “triple-decker” street. My friend veered off toward the road that led to Lower Wacker Drive and we continued our descent to Lower Lower Wacker Drive, which was even more famous…for being one of the largest homeless encampments in the world. The homeless preferred sleeping on Lower Lower Wacker Drive because they are sheltered from the weather and dozens of them could be found sleeping on loading docks and other out-of-the-way spots on any given night. In the mid-1990s, Chi-Town began forcibly removing these unfortunate people, tossing out their belongings and fencing off the places where they stayed.
In 1993, however, Lower Lower Wacker Drive was a sprawling metropolis of tents and cardboard boxes.
My friend – Jermaine is his name, in case you’re wondering – parked beside a loading dock, honked twice and then hopped out of his vehicle. I followed him to the trunk. Jermaine opened it, revealing his wife’s mink coat, two goose down coats, a pair of his ostrich-skin boots – chill, PETA, it wasn’t me – and a crate of bottled water.
Dozens of homeless people approached us, with warm smiles. Jermaine knew them all by name. He embraced them without hesitation.
I felt immense shame, because I realized that I was talking the talk – with a proverbial megaphone at that – but had never walked the walk.
Jermaine had walked it many times, though and had never said a word about it. He did not seek accolades; he did not seek support. He saw people in need and wanted to help them in the best way he could.
Jermaine handed out his donations to a man he called “The Mayor”, a short, thin, elderly Black man, who corrected me when I said the word “homeless” during my conversation with this brilliant man – “We aren’t homeless; we’re residenceless. This is home.”
The Mayor of Lower Lower Wacker Drive then decided who would receive which items. No one complained about his choices and all was peaceful. Jermaine and I said farewell to everyone, hopped back in his car and drove off. I turned to Jermaine and asked “So, when are we coming back?” “Pick a day,” he responded. “I visit and drop off stuff four or five days a week.”
Jermaine – always a cool brother – became a hundred times cooler, in my eyes.
My many chats with the Mayor of Lower Lower Wacker Drive over the next year or so inspired me to write a story with a “residenceless” person as the hero. Finally, I crafted Chicago Wynter, a tale of a homeless man’s battle against the deadly cold that takes the lives of so many homeless in Chicago each year.
I recently recorded an audio version of the story for GA Tech’s WREK radio station (91.1 FM), which will air on their Sci Fi Lab show. I now share that recording, with an accompanying slide show, with you. Give a listen and a look, enjoy and then, please, give me your feedback.
I have given homage to authors Nnedi Okorafor and Milton J. Davis by making them “actors” in this work. Why? Because they are artists whose work I admire greatly and, in the case of Milton Davis, he is also a great friend and teacher who I have had the honor – and pleasure – of working with on several projects.
To celebrate the release of my latest Urban Fantasy novel, Redeemer, I will share an episodic short story based on the book for the next three posts. Don’t worry, there aren’t any spoilers – the story is an alternate timeline, told from the point of view of our hero’s younger, wilder, vengeful self.
So, grab a cup of chai tea, or your favorite brew, sit back and enjoy part one of Redeemer: Glitch!
REDEEMER: Glitch Part 1
Glitch: A minor malfunction, mishap, or technical problem; a snag
The din of raucous laughter echoed throughout the private dining room of Sayles’ Lobster Bar. “Sweet” Danny Sweet had just told one of his anecdotes, which were always entertaining and, usually, quite funny.
Sweet’s charisma and “favorite uncle” demeanor was in stark contrast to his brutality; his ruthlessness. Those same qualities made him one of the most powerful record industry moguls in the world and the most powerful criminal in the Southeastern United States.
Z loved Sweet. When his father was brutally murdered, it was Sweet who stepped in to give him and his mother support; it was Sweet who found the man responsible for his father’s death; and it was Sweet who gave him the opportunity – and the will – to kill that man.
Next to Sweet sat the giant, “Nigerian Norm” – the man responsible for Sweet’s safety and for Z’s training. Norm, too, was a man of contrasts – massively muscled; brutish; a master of murder, mayhem and pain. But he was also a graduate of the prestigious Oxford Law school, well-traveled, fluent in five languages and one of the most formidable attorneys on the planet.
Norm was Z’s instructor in the ways of death and, in that role, as all the others he played, he had done exceptionally well. At fifteen years of age, Z was already an experienced and respected assassin-for-hire and was determined to one day be the absolute best.
Z thrust his fork into a mound of spaghetti gamberetto and then twirled it, wrapping the platinum utensil in a cocoon of pasta and shrimp. He shoved the pasta into his mouth, savoring the spicy-sweet flavor.
The smell of stale cigarettes and coffee assaulted Z’s nostrils. “McGraw,” he whispered.
Homicide Detective Terry McGraw sauntered into the dining room. His thick, brown fingers fumbled with the buttons of his tweed blazer as he approached the dining table. Behind him shuffled a stout, fireplug of a man, his plump belly jiggling with each step.
“McGraw, what’s the good word?” Sweet inquired.
“I’ve got good news, Sweet,” McGraw replied, reaching across the table to shake Sweet’s hand.
“Good,” Sweet said. His eyes shifted to the clammy-skinned, beer-bellied man beside McGraw and then back to the detective. “Who’s the J? And why is he at my table?”
“He witnessed the robbery-homicide at Frankie’s spot,” McGraw answered. “His name’s…”
“Chuck Alexander Etheridge,” the fireplug of a man said, extending his plump fingers toward Sweet. “But, everyone calls me ‘Shakespeare’.”
“Okay. Have a seat McGraw,” Sweet said, ignoring Shakespeare’s hand. “…Spear-Chucker.”
The corners of Shakespeare’s mouth curled into a weak smile. “That’s Shake…”
“Hey, Norm,” McGraw said, nodding toward the giant.
Hey, John Hop,” Norm said, leaning forward in his chair. “You had best brought some good Brad Pitt for this Buster Keaton.”
McGraw shook his head. “Damn, I’ve known you for, what? Eleven…twelve years? And I still can’t understand a friggin’ word when you talk that Cockney shit.”
“Well, if you cleaned the wax outta your sighs and had any eighteen in your loaf, understandin’ me would be lemon squeezy,” Norm said.
“It’s British Ebonics,” Sweet snickered. “You catch on after a while.”
Sweet turned his gaze toward Shakespeare. “So, what you got for me, Shake-n-Bake?”
“It’s…ahem…well, I was at Frankie’s spot when it happened,” Shakespeare replied. “It must have been around eleven, because I arrived at my regularly appointed time of ten-fifteen and had already taken my nightly dosage of opiate.”
“Opiate?” Sweet cut his eyes toward Detective McGraw.
“H,” McGraw answered.
“Oh,” Sweet said. “Go on, Salt-Shaker.”
Shakespeare leapt from the table and paced the floor. He hung his head and closed his eyes. “Frankie and his henchmen did not stand a chance. Their guns meant nothing in the face of that creature of wind and shadow.
“And why are you alive to tell the tale?” Z asked.
“He left all of the patrons alive,” Shakespeare answered.
“And just what did this bloke look like?” Norm inquired.
“He was tall, but not nearly as tall as you, or Detective McGraw,” Shakespeare replied. “He was, perhaps, five-eleven, or six feet. He was athletically built, with short, well-groomed hair and his skin was a smooth caramel…”
“Damn,” McGraw shouted, interrupting him. “Did you get the motherfucker’s phone number?”
“Absolutely not,” Shakespeare said, turning up his nose. “I am…
“You thinkin’ a sit-down?” Norm asked.
“Definitely,” Sweet replied.
Sweet raised his glass of cognac and extended it toward Shakespeare. “Good work, Shakespeare!”
A broad smile spread across Shakespeare’s face.
Sweet withdrew a money clip from the inner pocket of his sharkskin suit coat and thrust two crisp hundred dollar bills toward Shakespeare. “Here; there’s a lot more in it for you if your information leads to us catching this bastard. Now, order yourself some food; it’s on me.”
Sweet held up a golden brown french fry. “Hey, Norm, tell Shakespeare what you call these in England.”
“Chips,” Norm said.
“Freakin’ chips! Can you believe that?” Sweet asked. “A chip is a thinly sliced, flat piece of potato. Comes in different flavors, like plain – that’s my favorite – barbecue
; salt and vinegar – we call ‘em ‘salt and sour’ back home ; hot ; dill pickle – I don’t like them shits, though – anyway, that’s a friggin’ chip!”
Sweet snickered as he shook his head. “You English are some weird motherfuckers!”
“First of all, I’m Nigerian,” Norm began.
Sweet rolled his eyes. “Here we go…”
“Second of all, no brother would ever call himself ‘English’, he’d say he’s ‘British’, and third…”
“Hold that thought,” Sweet said, interrupting Norm. “I gotta take a piss.”
“You’re already takin’ the piss, aren’t ya’?” Norm replied.
“See…weird!” Sweet said.
Shakespeare smiled wider.
Sweet rose from his chair. Norm followed suit.
Sweet wiped the corners of his mouth with his napkin. “What?”
“I want in on the sit-down, in case the Carvers get froggy,” Z replied.
“What the hell do you think me and Norm are gonna be doing there, little nigga?” Norm spat. “Playing with our dicks? It don’t get no better than me and Norm having Sweet’s back.”
“The Carvers have some tight security and I hear that the twins are pretty dangerous themselves,” Z said. “You can use my help.”
“You’re fifteen, Z,” McGraw sighed. “Leave this shit to the big boys.”
McGraw turned his gaze toward Sweet. “Little nigga kills two or three motherfuckers and thinks he’s Dirty Harry, or some shit!”
Z pointed toward the silver police detective badge, encased in leather, hanging from McGraw’s neck. “Without that badge and gun, you’re just a really tall asshole who fights like a sissy with bad feet.”
Norm slapped the table with his fingertips. Plates rattled as silverware tap-danced against them. “Ezekiel…enough!”
“Yes, Sensei,” Z said, lowering his gaze.
“Bloody hell,” Norm shouted. “McGraw is your elder, Z. Apologize!”
“Yes, Sensei.” Z turned toward McGraw and pressed his palms together with his hands before his chest as if he was about to pray. “Detective McGraw, I apologize. I was wrong.”
McGraw smiled warmly. “It’s okay, Z. I accept your…”
“You are a really tall asshole who fights like a sissy,” Z said, cutting McGraw off. “But you don’t have bad feet.”
The room erupted in laughter.
McGraw thrust his middle finger toward Z.
“That’s better,” Norm said. “Gotta show the geezers their respect.”
“Y’all motherfuckers are crazy!” Sweet chuckled. “Look Z, this game’s political. If someone your age attends a sit-down, it’ll be taken as disrespect. I know your father – God rest his soul – gave you a soldier’s heart and Norm is teaching you to kill like a pro, but you gotta be patient.”
“The Carver Twins hired Greg Blake to merc my dad,” Zeke sighed.
“And they’ll pay for that,” Sweet said. “Just like Greg Blake did. You’ll have your revenge, little man; we just gotta be smart about it.”
“Yes, sir,” Z said.
Sweet pulled the brim of his homburg over his right eyebrow. “That’s my boy! Be right back, fellas; nature calls.”
Join us in a few days as we continue our thrilling tale with Redeemer: Glitch, Part 2!
And, as always, your feedback is welcome and encouraged.