Harvest of Thorns, my first book, is the story of racism and its impact on three generations of a rural Missouri community. Levi Manning, his son Earl, and grandson Chan are the central characters, and Harvest follows them from the 1930's to the present. Grandfather, father, and son could not be more different from one another.
But where does the idea for a book like this begin? Try Vidor, Texas.
Never heard of it? Neither had I, until running across a news article from 1994. At the time, four black households were being relocated to a public housing project in Vidor. They would be the first black residents in more than a half-century, and emotions were such that Federal marshals were called in to enforce the peace.
Federal marshals? In 1994?
It's a good time for some personal backstory. I was raised in Dorchester County on Maryland's Eastern Shore. It's a beautiful place, between the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean. It's also had its share of civil unrest. Our schools were segregated until 1969, a full twelve years after Brown vs. Board of Education declared separate schools unconstitutional. I'll share more on that in a later post, but leave it to say, this history raised my interest and awareness of the civil rights movement at an early age. Intervention by Federal marshals was, I assumed, a thing of the past.
Boy was I wrong.
You can read the story here, but suffice it to say the integration of Vidor did not go well. There was a KKK march and within months, the new residents were gone. Vidor has struggled to move past this blemish on its reputation, as you will see in this 2006 follow up, but issues remained. Even today, a decade later, a quick Google search of Vidor results in many race-related posts and articles.
Mention small-town living to many and they'll conjure up images of church picnics, county fairs, and neighbors helping neighbors. Often, that's the case. In a few instances, such as Vidor, Texas, that is the antithesis of reality. That was what I hoped to capture in Harvest of Thorns. Without giving away too much of the story, Harvest drops you into the middle of one small community dogged by a legacy of racism. Saxon County is a "Sundown Town," where minorities are unwelcome after dark. Ever heard the term before? There were plenty of Sundown Towns in the United States through the 1960's. The designation was known to white and black alike. Sadly, a few Sundown Towns continue into more recent times.
I have never visited Vidor, Texas, and the last thing I want to do is disparage a community that might be working diligently to overcome its past. There were and might still be many Vidors in America. It just happened to be the unlucky town whose story popped up on my Google search.
Facing a legacy of racism, dealing with the fallout, and learning to overcome it is what Harvest of Thorns is all about. I hope you like it.