Here are my TOP TEN REASONS for writing The Clouds Roll Away.
Reason #8: Real Racism
Slavery, Rap, Lott Cary and the source of racism.
Yeah, that about covers it.
The Clouds Roll Away swirls with conflicts arising from the history of a small but significant place in Virginia: Charles City.
Bordered by the James River just east of Richmond, Charles City is the home to America’s most historic plantation homes, a seed pod for several US presidents, and the first colonial settlement outside of Jamestown.
But there’s also storied black history here:
- One of America’s first free black communities.
- The nation’s third-oldest free black church.
- Birthplace of Lott Cary.
Who was Lott Cary? We ought to know his name. He was the first black missionary to Africa and the founding father of Liberia—the west African nation founded in 1820 by freed American slaves, most of them from Virginia.
The idea of Liberia sounded great: free African Americans sailing back to the mother land, sponsored by white abolitionists. They planned to build schools, businesses, even colleges, repatriating what was taken from them by force.
But good intentions often pave the road straight to hell. And Liberia might be one such construction project.
As I was researching Charles City for The Clouds Roll Away, I stumbled upon Bitter Canaan: Story of the Negro Republic by Charles Spurgeon Johnson. His 1930 book ought to be required reading, particularly by people who constantly scream about racial inequality, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a copy. Johnson’s manuscript was rejected by every publisher he approached; nobody wanted to print the acrid truth about Liberia. (Bitter Canaan was finally published in 1987 by an obscure house. It’s now out of print).
Johnson, who was black, writes with both compassion and disgust as he documents the grand social experiment. Everyone had high hopes—from the freed slaves to the white abolitionist Christians. But when the abolitionists returned to Liberia to check on the progress, they were horrified.
The former slaves now had their own slaves—and were proud of it. Even more appalling, these freed slaves were treating the human property worse than anything experienced in the American South.
Johnson, writing without defense or apology, recognized that what gave birth to American slavery had nothing to do with skin color. But it had everything to do with the evil residing in the human heart.
To this day, encyclopedias will skim right past Johnsons’ authorship of Bitter Canaan, choosing instead to highlight the scholar’s many other worthwhile achievements. But it makes me wonder if we simply can’t handle the truth about the human heart. About ourselves.
And it’s why I love writing about Raleigh Harmon. The girl’s honest, to the bone.
In The Clouds Roll Away, she comes up against everybody from black separatists and white supremacists to the descendants of former slaves and slave owners.
Here’s an excerpt from The Clouds Roll Away as she’s driving through Charles City looking for a woman connected to the Ku Klux Klan.
On Wednesday, December 13, I drove down Lott Carey Road—named for the Liberian founder who grew up here—and searched for a driveway that DeMott assured me was here.
I finally found the dirt road. It was covered with dry walnut shells that exploded under my tires. The sound made the lowland plain seem even more timeless, as if the fallow fields might suddenly bloom with torn and ragged soldiers, staggering home from a lost cause, the air still acrid with an incinerated city. I passed wooden grave markers that looked watered by the blood of the dead, and a dilapidated plantation house stood empty, waiting for once-beautiful women to step inside, their faces etched with bitterness.
Out here, it could still be April, 1865.