Tag Archives: Florida

Paramour Rights, the past you seldom hear about

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n 1952, African American Ruby McCollum of Live Oak, Florida was tried and convicted of murdering a local white doctor whom she claimed had been forcing her to have sex with him for years. The Florida Supreme Court overturned the conviction due to a technicality, but McCollum was judged insane before a new trial could be convened and was placed in a state mental institution. Those who covered the trial think it was prejudicial in multiple ways, including the fact that McCollum was allowed to say little or nothing in her own defense.

DVD About The McCollum Trial

I mention this because during this case, we heard the term “paramour rights,” the notion–stemming from the days of slavery–that white men could have non-consensual sex with any Black woman they wanted with little if any consequences. In the publisher’s description of one book about the trial, McCollum is said to have murdered her “white lover” rather than killing a man she claimed had been raping her for years. The word “lover” hardly applies.

Danielle L. McGuire writes in her  2004 “The Journal of American History” article, “It Was like All of Us Had Been Raped: Sexual Violence, Community Mobilization, and the African American Freedom Struggle,” Despite a growing body of literature that focuses on the roles of black and white women and the operation of gender in the movement, sexualized violence-both as a tool of oppression and as a political spur for the movement-has yet to find its place in the story of the African American freedom struggle. Rape, like lynching and murder, served as a tool of psychological and physical intimidation that expressed white male domination and buttressed white supremacy.”

My novel Conjure Woman’s Cat mentions the rape of a black woman by white males. In my fictional account, the police don’t even bother to investigate because this was, sad to say, par for the course. Black women in those days were portrayed, even in official court transcripts, as sexual Jezebels, “Nigger wenches,” and as women who liked being assaulted by white men. When they claimed they were raped in the rare instances such cases came to trial, prosecutors asked if they enjoyed it.

A “classmate” of mine (I put the word in quotes because we didn’t know each other) was one of four men who raped an African American woman at gun and knife point. His sister was in my high school class. We knew each other, but moved in different circles, so we never discussed the crime or the impact it had upon her or the family. In the high school yearbook, X was a senior and–as such–appears wearing a black bow tie, a white jacket, and a white shirt. He was active in school activities. He didn’t look like a man who would spend the rest of his life on the sexual offender lists.

He and his sister are still alive, so I won’t mention their names or the name of the victim who has passed away. I never saw an interview with the victim or any account of long-term psychological damage after the verdict was announced. She showed great courage during the trial as she described the event and never flinched under defense attempts to paint the seven sexual encounters of the evening as what she wanted.

The first surprising fact in 1959 was that X and the three other thugs who committed the crime were arrested. The second surprising fact was that they were held in jail while awaiting trial. They had confessed, but claimed the sex was consensual, and made light of the whole thing like it was boys having fun. The biggest surprise of all is that they were convicted and sentenced to life in prison. How unusual this way for that day and time.

Those commenting on the disparate approach in the criminal justice system to the rapes of black women by white males and the rapes of white women by black males consistently view sex with a black woman as a rite of passage for young white men. This was probably the case in Tallahassee in 1959. Many think that the late Senator Strom Thurmond’s “affair” with am underage black maid in his family’s house falls into the “rite of passage” or “paramour rights” category.

Few people knew about the segregationist’s black daughter until after he died. His black daughter Essie Mae Washington-Williams, who died in 2013, was silent about her birth father for 78 years wrote and elegant and even-handed memoir (Dear Senator) in 2006 that shows the confusion and disconnect between the black sons and daughters and their white fathers who were fascinated with black women. Commentators were quick to point out that apologists for Thurmond’s relationship with the teenage black maid employed by his family called that relationship and affair rather than statutory rape or sex under duress.

After years of executing black men for raping white women, the 1959 Tallahassee trial was a victory, a wedge driven into the status quo, a precedent showing times might be changing, even though the rapists were out on parole within six or seven years. In Conjure Woman’s Cat, the men aren’t convicted because–in the “real life” of 1954 when the novel is set–they seldom were found guilty of anything. In those days, that was life as usual.

–Malcolm

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Sacred Earth, Spiritual Journeys

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“Indigenous nations and peoples believe in the spiritual powers of the universe. We believe in the ultimate power and authority of a limitless energy beyond our comprehension. We believe in the order of the universe. We believe in the laws of creation and that all life is bound by these same natural laws. We call this essence the spirit of life. This is what gives the world the energy to create and procreate, and becomes the ponderous and powerful law of regeneration—the law of the seed.” – Oren Lyons.

View outside my living room window.

View outside my living room window.

When I look out the window and see the land, it’s much easier for me to believe in a sacred earth and the kinds of spiritual journeys that occur there than it is when I look at the Internet, the television set or a traffic jam on a city street.

I’ve had the same feelings in Apalachicola National Forest, Great Smoky Mountain National Park, along the Blue Ridge Parkway, in Glacier Park’s Swiftcurrent Valley and along the California coast at Pt. Reyes.

As the author of fantasy and magical realism novels and short stories, I can “get away with” suggesting that the land is sentient and that the animals one meets on the trail or sees above the mountain tops are wise and have lessons to teach us. Why? Because readers within my genre aren’t surprised by that view.

With most of the U.S. population living in cities, I wonder if those who live there long for the land as it’s shown them in spiritual ecology books and fantasy novels; or is there such a big disconnect between the land and daily life in the city, that environmental issues, spiritual journeys, and all the “Earth in peril” causes we hear about on the news or see on Facebook don’t seem real at all–outside of the novel on the nightstand.

Lake McDonald - NPS Glacier Park photo

Lake McDonald – NPS Glacier Park photo

I have no trouble writing fantasy that shows the Earth as alive because, whether it’s old childhood superstitions that grew out of so many days and nights spend camping, fishing and hiking or whether it’s wishful thinking, I see the land the way I write about it in my fiction.

I think it helps an author to not only have a passion for the themes in his/her storytelling, but to literally believe they’re true. When one believes, one tends to see a lot of things in nature (and elsewhere) that others do not see. Perhaps it’s an illusion or a tired hiker’s hallucination; I can’t say for sure. But it seems real, real enough to believe in.

Perhaps you have other passions. If you write stories and poems, create art, compose or sing songs, or work as a photographer, those passions and beliefs probably impact your work, making it more vibrant, believable and transcendent to those who see it or hear it. They may ask you where you get your ideas and you may tell them that within your belief system and your own journey, the ideas behind your work are quite natural.

In folk magic, everything is alive and interacts with people in their daily lives.

“Where do you get your ideas” is such a standard question authors hear, we’re often flippant about it and make up absurd answers because, frankly, we’re tired of the question and tired of trying to concretely say where those ideas come from. When we’re not being flippant, we say those ideas are part of our lives and so they’re echoed in everything we do.

For me, it’s a sacred Earth and a spiritual journey. Whatever your life and your passions are about, your art is going to reflect that if it’s honest art.

–Malcolm

This post originally appeared on “The Sun Singer’s Travels” in 2015.

 

 

Reduced price just in time for your holiday shopping

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The Kindle edition of my conjure and crime novel Eulalie and Washerwoman, from Thomas-Jacob Publishing, has been reduced to only $2.99 for the holidays. Ah, the books you can give (or keep for yourself)!

From the publisher:

Torreya, a small 1950s Florida Panhandle town, is losing its men. They disappear on nights with no moon and no witnesses. Foreclosure signs appear in their yards the following day while thugs associated with the Klan take everything of value from inside treasured homes that will soon be torn down. The police won’t investigate, and the church keeps its distance from all social and political discord.

Conjure woman Eulalie Jenkins, her shamanistic cat, Lena, and neighbor Willie Tate discover that the new “whites only” policy at the once friendly mercantile and the creation of a plantation-style subdivision are linked to corrupt city fathers, the disappearing men, rigged numbers gambling, and a powerful hoodoo man named Washerwoman. After he refuses to carry Eulalie’s herbs and eggs and Willie’s corn, mercantile owner Lane Walker is drawn into the web of lies before he, too, disappears.

Washerwoman knows how to cover his tracks with the magic he learned from Florida’s most famous root doctor, Uncle Monday, so he is more elusive than hen’s teeth, more dangerous that the Klan, and threatens to brutally remove any obstacle in the way of his profits. In this follow up to Conjure Woman’s Cat, Eulalie and Lena face their greatest challenge with scarce support from townspeople who are scared of their own shadows. Even though Eulalie is older than dirt, her faith in the good Lord and her endless supply of spells guarantee she will give Washerwoman a run for his ill-gotten money in this swamps and piney woods story.

And a reviewer says:

Told through the narrative voice of Lena, Eulalie’s shamanistic cat, the fast-paced story comes alive. The approach is fresh and clever; Malcolm R. Campbell manages Lena’s viewpoint seamlessly, adding interest and a unique perspective. Beyond the obvious abilities of this author to weave an enjoyable and engaging tale, I found the book rich with descriptive elements. So many passages caused me to pause and savor. ‘The air…heavy with wood smoke, turpentine, and melancholy.’ ‘ …the Apalachicola National Forest, world of wiregrass and pine, wildflower prairies, and savannahs of grass and small ponds… a maze of unpaved roads, flowing water drawing thirsty men…’ ‘…of the prayers of silk grass and blazing star and butterfly pea, of a brightly colored bottle tree trapping spirits searching for Washerwoman…of the holy woman who opened up the books of Moses and brought down pillars of fire and cloud so that those who were lost could find their way.'”

– Rhett DeVane, Tallahassee Democrat

I hope you (and the friends on your holiday list) enjoy the story.

–Malcollm

Briefly Noted: ‘Uncle Monday and Other Florida Tales’

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Uncle Monday and Other Florida Tales, Edited by Kristin G. Congdon, Illustrated by Kitty Kitson Peterson (University Press of Mississippp, 2001), 196pp

unclemonday“Uncle Monday” is a widely known legend about a central Florida shape shifter and conjure man first collected in print by Zora Neale Hurston in the 1930s as part of her fieldwork throughout the state.

It’s an apt title story for this collection of oral-tradition stories compiled and annotated by Kirstin G. Congdon. I have the hard cover edition which is out of print; the paperback is available via Amazon. Unfortunately, it’s not available on Kindle.

These stories are part of what makes Florida, Florida. This volume makes them accessible, though some can be found throughout the Internet (oddly enough, sometimes copyrighted by those who own the sites) as well as in Florida’s Folklore Programs archives and volumes published by the Federal Writers Project.

Congdon is also the author of Happy Clouds, Happy Trees: The Bob Ross Phenomenon (with Doug Brandy) and Just Above the Water: Florida Folk Art (with Tina Bucuvalas).

From the Publisher

Few states can boast the multitude of cultures that created Florida. Native American, African American, Afro-Caribbean, White, and Hispanic traditions all brought their styles of storytelling to fashion Florida’s legends and lore.

Uncle Monday and Other Florida Tales captures the way the state of Florida has been shaped by its unique environment and inhabitants.

Written for adults, children, and folklorists, this gathering of forty-nine folktales comes from a wide variety of sources with many drawn from the WPA materials in Florida’s Department of State archives. Kitty Kitson Petterson’s detailed pen-and-ink drawings illustrate each narrative. The stories represent a cross-section of the ethnic diversity of the state.

The book is divided into five sections: “How Things Came to Be the Way They Are,” “People with Special Powers,” “Food, Friends and Family,” “Unusual Places, Spaces, and Events,” and “Ghosts and the Supernatural.” Within these sections are stories with titles ranging from “How the Gopher Turtle was Made” to the improbable “The Woman Who Fed Her Husband a Leg Which She Dug Up from a Cemetery.” In these tales Florida is a world full of magic, humor, and adventure. There are tall tales, old magical legends, even quirky, almost straightforward narratives about everyday living, such as one story titled, “My First Job.”

Kristin G. Congdon’s informative introduction discusses the origins of Florida tales and the state’s storytelling tradition. A reflection accompanies each story to guide readers to a deeper understanding of historical context, morals, and issues. Although oriented towards children, Uncle Monday and Other Florida Tales is also accessible to adults, particularly scholars interested in the state’s folklore and oral traditions. Whether in a classroom or home, this guide adds great value to the collection.

Reviews

The book has three five-star reviews on Amazon, including this one by “grasshopper4”:  “Uncle Monday is a shape-shifter who for years has resided in a lake near Orlando. Uncle Monday is also a terrific compilation of folklore from Florida. There are myths, legends, tall tales, fairy tales, family stories, and a plethora of excellent oral narratives that have been and remain told in Florida. The introduction to the book is well-written, and each section provides good background information on various characters and tale types. The book also has wonderful illustrations that capture the feel of various stories, and the book includes excellent ideas for teachers to use when presenting the texts in class. It’s a model study by a fine folklorist.”

The book is a wonder for folklore students, writers researching old legends for use in Florida stories, and anyone enjoying a great story.

–Malcolm

Uncle Monday is mentioned in my novel “Eulalie and Washerwoman.” This post originally appeared on “Sun Singer’s Travels”

Favorite Scenes from ‘Eulalie and Washerwoman’

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I suppose most authors have favorite scenes from each of their books. We hope our readers like them, too. Here are a few from Eulalie and Washerwoman, from Thomas-Jacob Publishing.

Publisher’s DescriptionTorreya, a small 1950s Florida Panhandle town, is losing its men. They disappear on nights with no moon and no witnesses. Foreclosure signs appear in their yards the following day while thugs associated with the Klan take everything of value from inside treasured homes that will soon be torn down. The police won’t investigate, and the church keeps its distance from all social and political discord. Conjure woman Eulalie Jenkins, her shamanistic cat, Lena, and neighbor Willie Tate discover that the new “whites only” policy at the once friendly mercantile and the creation of a plantation-style subdivision are linked to corrupt city fathers, the disappearing men, rigged numbers gambling, and a powerful hoodoo man named Washerwoman. 

Excerpts

So Eulalie woke precariously from the blues of her dreams into the jaundiced light of the kerosene lantern when a frightful pre-dawn bedlam was visited upon our back porch by a man named William Ochlockonee Tate, a blue-nosed hinny named Minnie, and a Florida water moccasin named Nagaina. I’m Lena, the cat. Before my conjure woman was awoken by Minnie’s flailing hooves, I dozed blamelessly behind the pot marigolds until they were kicked into the yard.

Audio Edition

“Sergeant told me they’d study on it after they get the crime wave under control.”

Eulalie spat a shower of juice against the busted marigold pot. “Crime wave? I hadn’t heard.”

“It’s so scary, you won’t sleep on this lumpy old sofa on the back porch no more. Officer Moe, he claims the Bellamy Bridge haint came to town to hex us up one side and down the other. Officer Larry took a posse and rode south to apprehend a swamp booger pissin’ in front of that new white people’s church on the Estiffanulga Road. “Preacher man was damn well pissed off.” Willie couldn’t help but grin at that. “Sergeant Curly’s been on the trail of Two-Toed Tom for a month of Sundays; says if he don’t close in for the kill soon, he’ll jump Jim Crow.”

“Bless their shiny badges and pea-pickin’ hearts,” said Eulalie as matter-of-factly as one could make such a tongue-in-cheek pronouncement with a good chew in the way.

“So, what do we do first? Gather herbs. Light candles. Boil water?”

“We ain’t midwifin’, old man.”

“Don’t drink nothin’ out of that pan, Lena,” she said. “That’s the leavings of blackberry root, alum and turpentine, not a cure for anything you got. You saw ol’ Bill Carver walkin’home with the cure because he rolled too many hot biscuits at the jook and got a personal disease”—she clapped her hands twice and glared at me like this was a warning—“one that makes it hurt to pee.”

“‘Negroes and Whites have been coming here for years no hint of a problem, Mr. Ivy. Why do I need a sign now?’ Little Poison leaned across the counter close enough for me to smell the cheap bourbon on his breath. ‘Listen good, Lane. When Niggers and Whites are together, somebody’s out of place. If I go inside that praise church, I’m in the wrong place. That’s a Nigger place. If a Nigger walks in my church, he’s out of place. Out of place people have a way of getting hurt, hurt bad sometimes, and then they’re found floating face down in the Apalachicola after falling off Alum Bluff, hurt bad when their necks get caught in nooses or their houses blow up or burn down. Civilized people grieve when people of any race, including you bagel-dogs get hurt. The Liberty Improvement Club wants a happy town where nobody gets hurt. You might say, we’re the Nigger’s best friend because we help him see the places he belongs, places he can have a comfortable life. When he makes a mistake, we punish him because we believe in spare the rod, spoil the child. You can see that, can’t you? That sign keeps people in the right place like saying keep off the grass or no parking. That sign will make you rich. Yeah, I thought your Jew-boy eyes would grow wide when you heard that. Mr. Smith will come by in an hour and explain it to you.’ He tossed another hundred dollar bill on the counter and left the store with a grin wide enough to show every rotten tooth in his mouth.”

“Gives us time for a quickie behind the brush pile, brown sugar,” said Billy “We’ll pop your clutch and see how fast you scream ‘Lordy Lordy’ and beg for more.”

Billy was in the process of massaging her bottom and leaning in close enough to lick the frown off her lips when he froze, froze like time looked away, then screamed, “Holy shit,” and stumbled back holding his neck, and for Hank it was the same even though his greedy fingers hadn’t quite reached Eulalie’s blouse, freezing though as the good Lord covered his eyes, wailing then like a stuck pig before stumbling backward over a keg of nails.

“Yellow jackets don’t believe in paramour rights,” said Eulalie.

She winked at me and walked off down the street. I stood there and watched Billy and Hank shoving their heads into the icy slush in the Coca-Cola cooler until they ran out of fresh profanity.

Reviews

Told through the narrative voice of Lena, Eulalie’s shamanistic cat, the fast-paced story comes alive. The approach is fresh and clever; Malcolm R. Campbell manages Lena’s viewpoint seamlessly, adding interest and a unique perspective. Beyond the obvious abilities of this author to weave an enjoyable and engaging tale, I found the book rich with descriptive elements. So many passages caused me to pause and savor. ‘The air…heavy with wood smoke, turpentine, and melancholy.’ ‘ …the Apalachicola National Forest, world of wiregrass and pine, wildflower prairies, and savannahs of grass and small ponds… a maze of unpaved roads, flowing water drawing thirsty men…’ ‘…of the prayers of silk grass and blazing star and butterfly pea, of a brightly colored bottle tree trapping spirits searching for Washerwoman…of the holy woman who opened up the books of Moses and brought down pillars of fire and cloud so that those who were lost could find their way.'”
– Rhett DeVane, Tallahassee Democrat

“A simply riveting read from beginning to end, ‘Eulalie and Washerwoman’ is very highly recommended for both personal reading lists and community library General Fiction collections. – Julie Summers, Midwest Book Review

“Narrator Tracie Christian’s spirited style is ideal to portray the fantasy world of conjure woman Eulalie Jenkins and her shamanistic cat, Lena, who live in Florida in the 1950s. Christian captures Eulalie’s shock when she learns that Jewish merchant Lane Walker, who’s always traded fairly with the local African-Americans, is being forced to give up his store to the Liberty Improvement Club, which forbids serving blacks. Lively descriptions of Eulalie reading possum bones and casting spells; tender scenes with her old beau, Willie Tate; and feline Lena’s communication with Eulalie via secret thought speech add to the local atmosphere. S.G.B. © Audiofile Magazine 2017

If the novel happens to end up on your bookshelf, I hope you enjoy reading it.

–Malcolm

 

Ground Zero In Florida: Labor Day 1935

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Rescue train blown off tracks.

When I was in grade school in Florida in the 1950s, the parents and grandparents of my fellow students compared every tropical storm and hurricane to The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935.

While the cat 5 hurricane is still listed as the worst hurricane (in terms of intensity) to hit Florida, it’s seldom mentioned by forecasters and reporters now in spite of its sustained winds of 185 miles per hour and gusts at 200 mph. Its landfall pressure was 892 mbar, followed by Camille at 900 mbar in 1969 and Karina at 920 mbar in 2005.

I guess it happened so long ago, it’s no longer real to us.

The fatalities, at 405 were, however, far short of the deadliest hurricanes: Galveston in 1900 (8,000 dead), Lake Okeechobee in 1928 (2,500 dead), and Katrina in 2005 (1,200 dead). The worst hurricane to hit Florida when  I was growing up there was Donna, a cat 5, which got more than our attention in 1960 with 160 mph winds.

I doubt that most people driving the overseas highway to Key West these days know that between 1912 and 1935 Henry Flagler’s extension to the Florida East Coast Railway traveled 128 miles past the end of the Florida peninsula to Key West. All that ended in 1935 when the tracks were destroyed and never rebuilt.

As hurricane Irma approaches, I can’t help but think back to the stories our elders told us when I was a kid, long before the Weather Channel and 24/7 news channels gave us minute to minute reports of the hurricanes’ locations. “Yep,” they said, “you should have been here in 1935.”

Heck, I don’t want to be there now even though the storm seems to be headed toward us here in North West Georgia.

–Malcolm

 

Florida Wildflowers: Seaoats

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“Seaoats are important dune builders and protect beach dunes from erosion. It is unlawful in Florida to destroy or take this grass.” – “Florida Wildflowers: a Comprehensive Guide” by Walter Kingsley Taylor

“It shall be unlawful for any person to cut, collect, break or otherwise destroy sea oat plants, Venus’s-flytrap plants or any part on public property or on private property without the owner’s consent. Any person violating the provisions of this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction shall be fined not more than two hundred dollars or imprisoned not more than thirty days nor less than five days. Each violation shall constitute a separate offense.” – SC Code § 16-11-590 (2013)

Herbarium Specimen – Atlas of Florida Plants photo.

Seaoats (Unicola paniculata) are perennial grasses, often clumped and with vast root systems, that can grow over six feet tall that are found throughout the state in coastal uplands and beach dunes. The flat, inch-long flowers (spikelets), which are slightly purple or the color of straw, blooms throughout the year.

Seaoats can be found along the coasts and on barrier islands along the eastern seaboard from Virginia to Florida. Seaoats are very tolerant of salt spray. They are also very heat and drought tolerant and green until late in the summer. While the conditions under which they thrive reduce encroachments from other plants, beachfront development is a primary threat. (As you can see in the Florida state park photo below, developers, dune buggy enthusiasts, and others are likely to write the plant off as a weed.)

Some people like using them as accents in flora arrangements or as the focus of dried arrangements–one reason why some areas classify the grass as a threatened or endangered species as well in addition to being vital to soil stability within its habitats. They not only protect dunes year around but are an important factor in protecting coastal areas from the erosion associated with tropical storms. Restoring seaoats often becomes an important part of dune restoration programs.

Seaoats provide food for songbirds, burrowing owls, mice and marsh rabbits. While the grass produces numerous spikelets, these don’t generate a lot of viable seed. Fortunately, the seeds don’t have any important commercial value.

Seaoats on the crest of a dune at the John U. Lloyd Beach State Park, Florida – Wikipedia photo.

“What is so tantalizing about sea oats, making one wish to break the law to have sea oats in their own garden? For starters, they have a striking appearance growing and swaying in the slightest breeze. The decorative plumes (seed heads) are often dried and placed in floral arrangements, or displayed alone as a focal point. Sea oats are quite easy to have without breaking the law, but few people are aware seeds and/or plants may be bought legally from nurserymen licensed by the state of Florida to propagate them. These nurseries supply sea oat plants to local, state and federal government agencies for dune restoration after hurricanes; the nurseries are allowed to sell them to the public as well.” – Darius Van d’Rhys

Seaoats are edible (browned or used as a cereal), but if you want to try them, you have to grow your own. Note that the plant is not the same as Inland Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) that often grows as a ground cover in open areas and is found in northern states as well as the southeast.

–Malcolm

For a chance to win a free Kindle copy of “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” see the Amazon giveaway which runs through August 8th.