Monday, January 28, 2013

Before Scandal: Race and Sex in Political History

President Grant and Olivia Pope
The titillating television series Scandal is now in its second season on ABCIf you are unfamiliar with the show, it centers around Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), a former media relations consultant who has the power to "fix" things for everyone. Now, she is on her own working for herself with a new law firm but has a huge scandal of her own to contend with.  

While working on a gubernatorial campaign as a media relations consultant, she had an affair with then candidate, Fitzgerald Thomas Grant III (Tony Goldwyn).  Now as a fixer, she is called upon to fix a scandal in the president’s office.  However, the president now residing in office just happens to be Fitzgerald Thomas Grant III, and his affair with Olivia begins all over again.  By the way, did I mention Olivia is black and Grant is white?

Forbidden love is nothing new in politics, but throw race into the mix and it becomes explosive!  According to the Monticello website, “The claim that Thomas Jefferson fathered children with Sally Hemings, a slave at Monticello, entered the public arena during Jefferson's first term as president, and it has remained a subject of discussion and disagreement for two centuries.

“In September 1802, political journalist James T. Callender, a disaffected former ally of Jefferson, wrote in a Richmond newspaper that Jefferson had for many years ‘kept, as his concubine, one of his own slaves.’ ‘Her name is Sally," Callender continued, adding that Jefferson had "several children’ by her.”  Visit the Monticello site for further factual information.  The novel Sally Hemings by Barbara Chase-Raiboud  provides a fascinating fictional account.

Another interesting story revolves around Vice President Richard Mentor Johnson and his mulatto, Julia Chinn.  Johnson served as vice president under Martin Van Buren.  He and Chinn are referred  to briefly  in distinguished historian Thomas Fleming’s novel, The Wages of Fame.

Undercover Blackman says, “How much of a “Negro” was Julia Chinn? Well, she was a slave… a slave Johnson inherited from his father. She was “Negro” enough that Richard Johnson couldn’t have married her legally...Yet she was his mate. His common-law wife, in effect.

“ ‘She was the hostess at his Kentucky home when [French aristocrat] the Marquis de Lafayette visited,’ wrote Lindsey Apple, a retired Georgetown College history professor, in answer to questions from me.”

Johnson served in Kentucky’s state legislature (1804-1806; 1819), the U.S. House of Representatives (1807-1819; 1829-1837) and the U.S. Senate (1819-1829) prior to his becoming vice president.
Richard Mentor Johnson

Abraham Lincoln made reference to Chinn in a rather non-complimentary way. He exploited Johnson’s relationship with her to score a point against Stephen Douglas during the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858.
His words are as follow:

...I have never seen to my knowledge a man, woman or child who was in favor of producing a perfect equality, social and political, between negroes and white men. I recollect of but one distinguished instance that I ever heard of so frequently as to be entirely satisfied of its correctness – and that is the case of Judge Douglas’ old friend Col. Richard M. Johnson.

One of the most recent political indiscretions revealed was South Carolina Senator (and segregationist) Strom Thurmond’s love affair at 23 with his family’s African American maid, Carrie Butler, who was 15.  Newsday mentioned in its obituary of Thurmond that rumors flew for years in South Carolina that Thurmond, while still a segregationist, had a relationship with a black woman that produced a daughter.  Jack Bass, author of the Thurmond biography Ol Strom, says, “Thurmond never denied it, though he kept it under the rug for years...” 

Thurmond’s love child from his relationship, Essie May Washington-Williams, penned her memoir, Dear Senator, in 2005.  She waited until after her father’s death, at age 100, to reveal his secret.

A Publisher’s Weekly review  of Dear Senator explains that Carrie Butler died at 38 in a hospital's poverty ward.  Although she rarely appears in the memoir, Ms. Washington-Williams “fashions her a kind of love story: ‘I knew [Thurmond] loved my mother. I believed he loved me, after his fashion.’”

The love story Ms. Washington portrayed in Dear Senator provided the inspiration for my novel The Governor’s Sons, a provocative tale that examines a “politically incorrect” relationship of a young law student who falls in love with his family's hired help, a college age black girl.

Perhaps there are more forbidden love stories hidden in the annals of history just waiting to be discovered.  Maybe they'll inspire more novels—or even influence a story line in a TV series.

Are you a fan of "Scandal"? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Brad Taylor: Thoughts on Writing

The other night I had the super-fun experience of attending a book talk with New York Times bestselling thriller author  Brad Taylor.  He's on tour for his new book, Enemy of Mine.

After graduating from the University of Texas, Taylor was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Infantry.  He served for more than 21 years, retiring as a Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel.  During that time he held numerous Infantry and Special Forces positions, including eight years in 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment – Delta where he commanded multiple troops and a squadron.  He has conducted operations in support of US national interests in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other classified locations.

His final assignment was as the Assistant Professor of Military Science at The Citadel in Charleston, SC.  He holds a Master’s of Science in Defense Analysis from the Naval Postgraduate School, with a concentration in Irregular Warfare.

Perfect background for a thriller writer--and as daunting as his background appears, he's a surprisingly down to earth guy with a great sense of humor!

He discussed  in detail his research on Enemy of Mine, lots of which took place in the Middle East, as well as what inspires his writing. Taylor says news stories usually provide the inspiration for his novels.

An aspiring writer asked what steps he took to publication.  The usual, query letters to agents and numerous rejections.  However, Taylor explained that after a while, instead of focusing on agents who represented those resembling Vince Flynn and Brad Thor, he'd look for someone who didn't represent a Middle Eastern/thriller/espionage novelist--and it worked!

I asked if he depended on his wife's feedback.  He does!  But he also said he has several civilian readers.  If information isn't clear to them, he has to do some re-writing to make sure his audience can completely understand what he's written.  Those beta-readers are important!

Taylor's book talk was a great opportunity and I'm glad I had a chance to attend!  Thoroughly enjoyable evening with a thoroughly enjoyable, and really nice guy!

Any thoughts from novelists you'd like to share?

Thanks for visiting, and have a great week!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Bonded: Who's Your Favorite James Bond

The new James Bond movie, Skyfall, is in theaters now, starring the incredibly handsome and hunky Daniel Craig, as 007.

Sean Connery: The Greatest  Bond
In my opinion, the best Bond was the original, Sean Connery, but my next favorite is Craig, followed by Timothy Dalton.

Timothy Dalton: Should Have Made More Bond Movies
Dalton made only two Bond films, The Living Daylights (1987) and License to Kill (1989).  I saw both and enjoyed them immensely, yet critics claim he lacked the charisma necessary for the role.  I've never understood this.  To me, he embodied the rugged intensity and manliness of James Bond, as well as that 007 cool charisma.  In addition, he was absolutely gorgeous!  Sigh...I wish he'd made more Bond movies...

Daniel Craig: Next Best Thing to Connery
Below is a list of all the actors who have ever played Bond. I've included my unsolicited opinions on each for fun:

1. Sean Connery- The Best!

2. George Lazenby - Who? Aynilists says, "Having done only one James Bond movie, George became actually a metaphor for something forgettable: 'It was a mistake, like casting George Lazenby as 007.'″

3. Roger Moore - Many years ago on The Mike Douglas Show, I heard Moore say he believed himself too pretty for the role; I agree.

4. Timothy Dalton - Superb!

5. Pierce Brosnan - Why?

6. Daniel Craig - Next best thing to Sean Connery!

Who is your favorite bond?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Passing as Black

Effa Manley
So there's trans-gender, can there also be trans-racial? If someone chooses to pass, perhaps they are. If you're unfamiliar with the term "passing," here's a definition from Wikipedia

Racial passing refers to a person classified as a member of one racial group attempting to be accepted as a member of a different racial group. The term was used especially in the U.S. to describe a person of mixed-race heritage assimilating into the white majority during times when legal and social conventions...classified the person as a minority, subject to racial segregation and discrimination.

Back in the days of segregation, lots of mixed race individuals of black and white ancestry chose to pass as white for social and economic reasons.  Effa Manley, however, was a white woman who chose to pass as black!  Her biological parents were white, but she was raised by her white mother, and her step-father who was African-American.

I'd never heard of Effa Manley, but here's some of her story from Negro Leagues Legacy.  See the link for the complete article "The First Lady of Black Baseball," by Aimee Crawford.

Effa Manley was ahead of her time.

In the 1930s and '40s, women were often viewed as second-class citizens, and blacks were accorded few rights. According to the established rules of society, neither were considered qualified to contend at baseball's highest level. But Effa Manley had little use for those rules -- or for establishment, for that matter.

Like greats Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby, she was a pioneer in breaking down baseball's racial barriers. Unlike those two, Manley faced the additional obstacle of gender bias.

 Aggressive and progressive, glamorous and magnanimous, Manley overcame each to make her mark as one  of the most fascinating and significant figures in Negro League history.  

"She was unique and effervescent and knowledgeable," says Monte Irvin, the Hall of Famer who played shortstop and outfield for the Newark Eagles, the Negro League team Manley co-owned with her husband, Abe. "She ran the whole business end of the team."
A born entrepreneur, Manley was the only female in the history of Negro Leagues.  Effa and Abe ran the Eagles, a Negro National League team, from 1935-48. And her considerable influence extended beyond baseball as well; she was also active in the black civil rights movement.

Manley was born March 27, 1900. Her birth, like much of her life, was controversial. Within the black community, Manley rarely discussed her heritage, and most people assumed she was a light-skinned black. But Manley claimed in an interview in 1973 that she was white. Her mother, Bertha Ford Brooks, was white, of German and Asian-Indian descent. Effa explained that Bertha, who earned a  living as a seamstress, became pregnant by her white employer, John M. Bishop, a wealthy Philadelphian. Manley's black stepfather, Benjamin Brooks, sued Bishop and received a settlement of $10,000 before he and Bertha divorced. Bertha remarried, and Effa was raised in a household with a black step-father and black half-siblings, and so chose to live as a black person.

Effa Manley was a fascinating individual, and the first person I'd ever heard of to "pass as black!" Had you ever heard of her, or perhaps someone else who chose to pass as something other than white?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!