Friday, January 3, 2014

Freeman by Leonard Pitts Jr.

It is the end of the American civil war and slavery had just been abolished. People were jubilantly dancing in the streets of America. An era came to an end. 

Although it was one of the purposes of the war to establish freedom for everyone, nobody really seemed to grasp the real meaning of the concept. Those who finally gained their freedom were the least prepared for it. For most of them slavery was bad, but peace brought much worse consequences than ever envisioned. You could say the battle was won but the war was not over and some of the more optimistic celebrators did not know what was waiting on the other side. For those who never knew freedom, who were born in slavery, the thought of freedom was a highly unsettling and frightening idea. After all, people were still white, and other black. And the whites still regarded the black people as something similar to dogs or horses. Not human. No, not human at all.

"In physical deportment, intellectual capacity, and moral integrity, white men were set apart from all the other races of the world. That includes your red man, your yellow man, and most certainly, your black man.”

Bostonian Prudence Cafferty Kent's father warned her. “When this war is finished, when the Union is restored, this government will do nothing for the colored man. It will free him and then it will leave him to fend for himself in a hostile and resentful land. It will require people like us, people of means, to fill in the gaps.” 

In memory of her late father, she decided to move down south and establish a school for the newly freed slave children in a building belonging to her father. She wanted to make a difference. She felt it was her calling. Her husband gave his life to make a difference as well. She had to carry on their visions and wishes. But Prudence was an inexperienced, and a simply stubborn, mulish, headstrong person who envisioned herself as the savior of many. A person who thought that her wishes would become everyone else's commands. What she found in the little town Buford, Mississippi, would not only drastically clear up her misconceptions about life, and destroy innocent people's lives, but will also make her realize how damaging her actions were for the inhabitants of Buford she tried to help.

We have lost our homes and other property. We have lost our dignity and pride. We have lost our way of life and we have lost our country. By the holy God, how much more can you Northern people expect us to lose? Would you have us surrender our sacred place in the very order of creation? We will not meekly accept that. We cannot, if we wish to still consider ourselves white men. You will not prop the Negro up as our social or political equal. We will resist that with every means at our disposal, Mrs. Kent. We will resist for a hundred years, and more.”

The intolerance, resentment, bitterness and rebellion in the different groups are pushed to the limits with her arrival and the choices she made. 

Sam Freeman fled the south and landed up in Phillidelphia working as an assistant in a library when the good news arrived about the end of the war. He wanted to return to Buford to search for his wife Tilda, whom he left behind fifteen years earlier. It was a dangerous decision to make. He made an oath when he fled the bondage of Mrs. Louisa Prentiss down south, that he will return for his wife when he managed to establish a new life up north. He knew the time had come for him to go back to his roots in Mississippi. He walked a thousand miles and more, to honor the promise he made to himself. 

Tilda had her own story to tell. It was a life of hardship and hell that did not end with the signing of the peace treaty, since her 'owner' refused to give up his 'property'. She had no desire or aspirations to leave her master. The unknown and the uncertainty of a free life convinced her to stay, be loyal and endure. The known was intolerable, but still better than the unknown. 

Comments: Fastidious. Intense. Convincing. Excellent. What a stroke of luck it was to choose this book as my first read for 2014! I often read Leonard J. Pitt Jr's syndicated columns and had this book now for a few months stacked to be read. I love his writing style, so it was with excitement and joy that I opened this book last night and got going.

All I want to say is that it was an emotionally-charged, suspenseful read. The plot, the rawness of the events, the scenery and historical details in the book kept me reading from beginning to end without taking a break. I am not sure how well this book is received in the American psyche, but I do wish more people from all over the world can read it for the powerful message it contains about human dignity and respect and what people do to each other when one group, so often violently, is denying it to another.

There is such a wealth of pathos, character, and deeply moving moments in the book. There is the good the bad and the ugly. But mostly, there is an honesty of thought and intent rolled out in the rainbow of eloquent prose. 

I recommend this book to EVERYONE!


Freeman, the new novel by Leonard Pitts, Jr., takes place in the first few months following the Confederate surrender and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Upon learning of Lee's surrender, Sam--a runaway slave who once worked for the Union Army--decides to leave his safe haven in Philadelphia and set out on foot to return to the war-torn South. What compels him on this almost-suicidal course is the desire to find his wife, the mother of his only child, whom he and their son left behind 15 years earlier on the Mississippi farm to which they all "belonged."

At the same time, Sam's wife, Tilda, is being forced to walk at gunpoint with her owner and two of his other slaves from the charred remains of his Mississippi farm into Arkansas, in search of an undefined place that would still respect his entitlements as slaveowner and Confederate officer. 

The book's third main character, Prudence, is a fearless, headstrong white woman of means who leaves her Boston home for Buford, Mississippi, to start a school for the former bondsmen, and thus honor her father’s dying wish.

At bottom, Freeman is a love story--sweeping, generous, brutal, compassionate, patient--about the feelings people were determined to honor, despite the enormous constraints of the times. It is this aspect of the book that should ensure it a strong, vocal, core audience of African-American women, who will help propel its likely critical acclaim to a wider audience. At the same time, this book addresses several themes that are still hotly debated today, some 145 years after the official end of the Civil War. Like Cold MountainFreeman illuminates the times and places it describes from a fresh perspective, with stunning results. It has the potential to become a classic addition to the literature dealing with this period. Few other novels so powerfully capture the pathos and possibility of the era particularly as it reflects the ordeal of the black slaves grappling with the promise--and the terror--of their new status as free men and women.



Leonard Pitts, Jr. was born and raised in Southern California and now lives in suburban Washington, DC, with his wife and children. He is a columnist for the Miami Herald and won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, in addition to many other awards. He is also the author of the novel Freeman (Agate Bolden, 2012), Before I Forget (Agate Bolden, 2009); the collection Forward From this Moment: Selected Columns, 1994-2009, Daily Triumphs, Tragedies, and Curiosities (Agate Bolden, 2009); and Becoming Dad: Black Men and the Journey to Fatherhood (Agate Bolden, 2006).

In a career spanning 35 years, Leonard Pitts, Jr. has been a columnist, a college professor, a radio producer and a lecturer. But if you ask him to define himself, he will invariably choose one word. WRITER.

He is a writer, period.

In 2004, Pitts was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for commentary. He was also a finalist for the Pulitzer in 1992. In 1997, Pitts took first place for commentary in division four (newspapers with a circulation of over 300,000) in the American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors' Ninth Annual Writing Awards competition. His recent columns on the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman have garnered much attention from his peers and readers alike. Click here to read the archive of columns by Leonard Pitts Jr. (source: Goodreads)


Genres: african-american, american-history, historical-fiction, reviewed, romance

Formats:  Kindle Edition | Nook, | Paperback | Audio, CD | Audiobook | MP3 Audio
Page Numbers: 415 pages
Publisher: Agate Bolden | Amazon Digital Services, Inc
Publishing date: May 8, 2012
ISBN: 1932841644
ASIN: B008164K6A
Edition language: English
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble


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