I write stories so I can pretend to be anyone I wish. For the past four months, I have on occasion, imagined what it might be like to be black and living during the Civil War. How was I able to do that? By listening to the stories of my father, a white boy growing up during the 1920’s in the deep South. I was just a little girl when I heard his stories but I remember them well. And I remember his emotions when he told me how bad he felt when he and his black friend would board the bus and his friend had to go to the back. Or the way he explained to me that when as a lad, he hitchhiked across the countryside and kind, generous, friendly black people took him in and fed him. As soon as he was old enough, he left the South and moved to California. After forty-five years of living in California, he was still shaking his head about the injustices that skin color brings. One night he came home from a hard day’s work selling furniture in his store. He was blown away by the brilliance of a black man he had met that day. Not because a black man was brilliant but because so many white people still failed to recognize it.
He never forgot the South. It was dear to his heart. He was born in 1920. That was only fifty-five years after the end of the Civil War in 1865. I’ve been to New Orleans twice, and in 2011 my husband Jon and I rode a Harley through Louisiana, Mississippi, Kentucky and Tennessee. So, I’m not a Southern girl… but I can pretend.
Suellen Ocean is the author of the Civil War Era romance, Blue Violet. Available here: