Every year for the past nine years Santa Monica has had a Citywide Reads. In the past we have had “The Time Traveler’s Wife” and “Little Bee,” to name a few. All provided much discussion among various groups held around the city.
The Santa Monica Citywide Reads this year is a book by Dolen Perkins-Valdez told in the third person. It is set pre-Civil War from 1842 to 1854 covering three summers and concerns the life of four female slaves. The underlying theme is freedom.
It took some research to depict this time period. Someone had to creatively string together the facts with an imaginative bent and place words on paper to come up with this book. Perkins-Valdez has been able to work with historical manuscripts from the era left and develop this tale. She no doubt spent time picturing herself back in those politically-charged days.
Her viewpoint character is Lizzie, a house slave, who shares the main house with Drayle, the white slave owner. At this point in time a house slave along with keeping the house would also be used as the sex object. There was no freedom or choice afforded them.
Each year the slave master would take a holiday at Tawana House, a resort in a free state. States were known as free or slave at the time.
“Three of the Southern men brought their slave women with them, first on ships, and then riding in separate train cars after they entered free territory,” Perkins-Valdez writes.
The masters liked showing off their female slaves at Tawana House, taking them to balls where there were Northerners. It was almost as if the owners enjoyed flaunting their possessions.
“It was no secret many of the Northern whites who stayed at the resort disliked slavery,” Perkins-Valdez wrote in one passage.
The main thought about freedom for the slaves is summed up by something Drayle says to a Northerner, “I’m not worried about anyone ending slavery anytime soon.” Drayle stared directly at the Northerner. “This country has been built by men like us.”
Among the four women featured, there is Mawu who longs for freedom for herself after spending some time up at Tawana. Another is Lizzie who lives in the Big House and has given children to her master, Drayle. Her wish is for the freedom of their son. Sweet doesn’t want freedom at first since she has stopped dreaming. Reenie just wants to get along.
It would be years yet before someone like Abraham Lincoln, who at this point in time was still a country lawyer, would say when he was president, “In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free — honorable alike in what we give and what we preserve. We shall nobly save or meanly lose the last, best hope of earth.”
This is a very thought provoking book and will generate discussion. Information about the scheduled groups can be found in the recent Seascape or at the local library. Considering this is Black History Month, this work takes on even greater significance.
This year the library will hold discussions from Feb. 14 to March 12. Find further information at your local library. Or you can go to the blog at www.santamonicacitywidereads.blogspot.com.