Date of Award
Master of Arts in American Studies (MAST)
The Burden of History and Fiction
“How much of the burden of history can fiction bear?” – Margaret Walker
Comprehensive historical research can often become the inspiration for art. The greatest pieces of historical fiction, are a result of years of historic scholarship before the creation of a compelling historical narrative or fiction piece. Through my two-year ethnographic study and collection of oral histories of the black community, surrounding the historic Bethel A.M.E. church in Acworth, Georgia, I was told a story about a friendship between two little girls who remained friends until the end of their lives. What I found unique and inspirational about the story was that it was about two girls from different races who developed an unbending alliance amid the tensions of an apartheid South.
Interracial friendships were complex and often layered with tensions surrounding race relations during the Jim Crow era. Despite the constrictions of legalized segregation in the region, black and white residents interacted in ways that defined Southern culture and influenced the identity of some black people in the South. There is the national narrative about the history of race relations in the South that is easier for the public to comprehend and grasp, but ignores the reality of long-term friendships between black and white people like the story told to me by Abbie Parks, a white historical preservationist, and activist in Acworth, Georgia.
Stories about interracial friendships outside of the stereotypical expectations of both black and white people are typically the untold stories, and maybe included in the local narratives, but become silenced in the national narratives regarding race relations in the segregated South. The friendship between the girls living in Acworth, Georgia as told to me by Abbie Parks lasted from the 1930s to the late 1970s amidst social change that significantly impacted the everyday lives and perspectives of everyone in the South, like the story I heard from Parks about a thriving friendship of two little girls in Acworth. I propose to write a short historical fiction piece that explores and illustrates the universal themes of mutual acceptance and loyalty that is often at the core of any meaningful friendship that last over five decades. However, the unique journey of their friendship within a racially divided South will also explore the themes of friendships amid segregation, the development of a Black cultural identity with ties to Southern landscapes, the dynamics of systematic lynching in a small rural community, and the transformation of the Old South to the New South. The little girls in my fiction, like in the story that was told to me, will transition to grown women, experiencing the societal shifts of a changing South, and coping with the painful secrets that caused a rift in a small community, while trying to maintain a meaningful and solid friendship. In a larger context, my short fiction will provide an example of race relations and interactions in Acworth, Georgia.