Saturday, August 23, 2014

Synopsis: The Alternative

Synopsis:  The Alternative
Author: George McNeish
London, Ontario
N6B 1H3
Genre: Fictional History
Word Count: 115,980
Number of Pages: 422
Line Spacing: Double
Font/Size: Times New Roman / 12

The Alternative

This fictional history is set in Louisiana USA in the 1800’s.

Truth is stranger than fiction. This book sets out to make more sense than the US civil war that started in 1861. It seems unbelievable that a country would do more damage to themselves than any outside force has ever done. The Alternative explores another possibility that would be more believable.

The story begins with the birth of the main characters. Chapter one covers the birth and childhood of Bobby Johnson and chapter two deals with the birth and childhood of Ruthie Lancer. Bobby was an only child who had a very kind father who was a slave owner. Bobby made friends with his father’s slaves and had difficulty understanding why they were treated differently. When the churches criticized his father for not whipping his slaves, Bobby was confused. He became more and more convinced that slavery was wrong and vowed he would never be a slave owner.

Ruthie’s mother died giving birth to her and she was raised by her father’s slaves. Her father is a very cruel master and he blames his daughter for his wife’s death. Ruthie has a very troubled childhood and tries to protect the slaves from her father. Her best friend is one of her father’s slaves, but it is not a friendship on an equal basis. Krissy is more like a favourite pet than a best friend.

Ruthie discovered that she was not an only child when she was fourteen. It was then that she found out that Sheila’s son, Willy, was her half brother and that her best friend was pregnant with her father’s child. Sheila was responsible for raising Ruthie from the age of three. When her father died Ruthie found out she had another brother that she knew nothing about. She finally met him in 1849 when she was 44 years old.

Ruthie and Bobby got married in 1825 after a very rocky courtship. Their attempts to get to know each other were hindered by Ruthie’s abusive father and the system of slavery. As they overcame one problem after another, the effects that slavery had on them and others was highlighted.

Although Bobby vowed not to be a slave owner, it is his best friend, Samson, who came up with the plan to end slavery. Samson was a sickly child. Since he wasn’t suited to plantation work he was kept as a playmate for Bobby. When Bobby came home from school each day, he would often play school with his friend and in that way Samson learned to read and write. Later, when Bobby went north to learn about Christianity, away from the influence of the southern preachers, he took Samson along and they both got a college education.

Samson’s physical strength was not great, although it did get better when he left the slave diet behind and got better nutrition. His real strength was in his mind and his unshakable faith in God. Samson married Krissy in a double ceremony with Bobby and Ruthie. Together the foursome went on to change the history of the south.

Would they be able to prevent a war? That question was not answered until the last chapter. The main characters struggled to put Samson’s plan into action and end slavery before it caused a civil war but the reader would never be sure if it could be done. Indeed, the author even had doubts while writing it.

The story discusses the advantages of a cooperative society over a competitive one while showing how love and kindness can triumph over hate and cruelty and how the actions of one man can have a ripple effect that changes the whole society he lives in. It also shows the evils of having different standards for black and white, male and female.

It contains emotional challenges, romantic struggles, humour and challenges to bigoted religious beliefs.
 Subjects addressed.

When a young man discovers that North American slavery is not the will of God, how does he have faith in the Almighty while the religious leaders and everyone else is telling him he is wrong?

We all have heard stories of the evils of slavery but in these pages we look at how it affects families of both colours. For instance, how will the daughter of the slave owner react when she finds out that her father is responsible for getting a slave her own age pregnant? How will a mother respond to news that she will gain her freedom if her daughter is still a slave?

Paul breathed out threatening and persecution of the Christians, Ichabod Kempler preached venomous words against the actions of Bobby, but they both had a dramatic conversion and became strong supporters of the causes they formerly opposed. The conversion of Ichabod was much more humorous as it involved, not a blinding light, but a stubborn mule.  

In this book I attempt to examine the emotional effects that slavery had on both the slaves and the slave owners. I look at the effects it had on families, the economy and the overall wellbeing of all the players in the drama. We get inside the heads of those who knew nothing but slavery, both from the slaves point of view and the masters point of view. The difficulty of changing a belief system that was taken for granted for 200 years is examined. Indeed, such belief could only be changed by the power of God, but my characters, although they have faith, are never sure that they are doing things the way God wanted. They were sure He wanted to end slavery, but perhaps by avoiding a devastating war there would not be enough retribution for the evils that had been committed.
Inspiration for the story.

When I became chairman of the Fugitive Slave Chapel Preservation Project in London, Ontario, my wife urged me to write a book about the chapel. In researching the subject I found that John Brown spoke at the Chapel the year before his attack at Harpers Ferry. This led to a study of the Civil War and when I learned of the devastation I began to wonder how a country could have done this to itself. I thought the true story was unbelievable and I set out to write a more believable fictional history of the era.

When reading about John Brown I came across a description of him by Frederick Douglass and was immediately impressed by  his perspective. I read everything I could find that was written by Douglass and became more impressed by his ability to see things from all points of view. Usually one needs to read many sources to get a complete picture, but Douglass, in his autobiographies, show how slavery was affecting both slave and master.

My writing has been greatly affected by the perspective of Fredrick Douglass who makes two appearances in the book. I have also been influenced by the writings of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Booker T. Washington and Solomon Northup.


Friday, August 1, 2014

Emancipation Day

Emancipation Day


The Slavery Abolition Act 1833 ended slavery in the British Empire on August 1, 1834. Emancipation Day is widely observed in the British West Indies during the first week of August.

Emancipation day is increasingly being celebrated around the world. In the past the horrors of slavery were too close and the pain of those memories was too hard to take. The perpetrators were in denial and the victims were in pain.

I am observing a growing tendency for the white community to now look into the conditions caused by the slavery system in the USA. Many among the black population still find it too difficult to face  what had happened to their ancestors, but the ancestors of those who inflicted such pain are now wanting to make amends and  are taking a look at the horrors of the slavery era.

Solomon Northup, a citizen of New-York, was kidnapped in Washington city in 1841, and rescued in 1853, from a cotton plantation near the Red River in Louisiana. He wrote and published a book the same year he was rescued.  Recently this book was made into a movie. Now people want to know about the horrors suffered by slaves and the injustices done to the African-Americans. The book sat on shelves collecting dust for years but, suddenly, everyone wants to know what happened in the 19th century.

Slavery directly caused the most devastating war in USA history. It would take until the 1970’s and the Vietnam war before the cumulative total of American lives lost in all other wars would exceed the number of lives lost during the four years of the American civil war. Thus the slavery system was the cause of devastation, death and misery to the whole American population.

Before the civil war many African lives were lost on slave ships and during the time of slavery. However a slave’s life was not regarded as important enough to keep track of numbers. Many were gunned down or torn apart by dogs while trying to escape. The law protected the master who went overboard and killed a slave while whipping him. Slaves were property owned by a master. The property owner had rights to his property, but the property had no rights. If one is foolish enough to destroy his own property his only loss is the property thus destroyed. There is no other punishment for such behaviour. Therefore, to kill a slave, whether by accident or on purpose, was not regarded as an event worth recording.

One only needs to look at the laws of the time to get a glimpse of the horrors the slaves must have endured. Slaves were the only livestock were the owner could provide his own stud service. A slave dare not refuse her master and the resulting children were chattels owned by the person who fathered them. Like any other slave they could be sold to the highest bidder and, having some white blood in them often made the slave more valuable.

Age did not matter. What a glorious system for the pedophile. The law would protect the property rights of such a person who could own as many children as he wanted, and since they were his property, he could do whatever he wanted with them.

Now we hear those who will say, “It didn’t happen very often.” To such ones I must ask, “How often does it need to happen to be of importance?” Let’s say it was only one percent. We will say, out of 100,000 slave children only 1,000 were molested and sexually abused by their masters. Does that make it okay? Even if it only happened once, would that not be enough to prove the law was wrong? Imagine, for a moment, that you are now living in the slavery system as a slave and only one pedophile is repeatedly abusing a little girl. That’s not very significant, but it is your little girl that is being abused. The law protects the abuser and if you try to do anything about it you will either be killed or sold to a distant place. Either way the abuse will continue and you will not be around to comfort your child. Indeed the pedophile would likely have been wise enough that he bought the child alone without any family to protect her and she will never know a mother’s love or a father’s affection. She will grow up knowing nothing but abuse. You do not know what is happening to your child, but when you saw the man that bought her and how  he was checking her out, you fear the worst, but she was taken from the auction house while you screamed for mercy, but all you got was a whipping for being too attached to your child. Oh yes. Slaves are just animals, so they should be okay with having their children ripped away from them and sold. A slave who tries to protect his or her child is not a very good slave. They should know they have no rights to their children. They are your owner’s property. He can sell them, rent them out, or do anything he wants with them.

We may think this is horrible, and we are right. We comfort ourselves by thinking it was in another age and it happened to other people. I am safe. It could not happen to me. Yet the old adage is that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Only next time the tables may be turned. I may find myself on the receiving end of the horrors. That is enough for me to do whatever I can to make sure this horror is not repeated.

Now we find comfort in the fact that slavery is illegal. Now a person can be charged for abusing a child. Society protects all children regardless of class. So we think we are safe.

Yes, slavery is illegal, but the mindset that was responsible for slavery is still rampant. Slavery was an ultimate example of a competitive society. A necessary part of competition is that there are winners and losers. We saw the extreme of that when the slaves lost and the plantation owners won, but, as a result, everyone lost. Society lost two hundred years of contributions from those who were not considered equal under the law. By forcing slavery on this class of people and denying them education, they were not able to contribute to the advancement of society. What little gains were made were wiped out by a civil war that was made necessary by the slavery system.

Have we as yet learned our lesson? Are we willing to give up a competitive system and work with a co-operative system? Those looking for a job will find the competition is fierce. One has to be fortunate to get a job. To find a job that is fulfilling and one that can be enjoyed is nearly impossible. There will be a few exceptions and a few do win this competition, but many more will be forced to work at a meaningless job. They will put in their time to earn their paycheque so they can pay their bills, but an uncaring employer could lay them off or fire them at any time. Perhaps the twenty lashes a slave would get was more humane. Now you are turned out to starve. Oh, unemployment insurance and welfare can help for a while if you know the system, but again, if you are not prepared you can lose. Many end up living on the streets after they have lost their housing. We can often find old men who have worked hard all their lives spending their last days on the streets because, at the end of the game, they were among the losers.

God created us as one humanity. The body of mankind can be likened to an individual human body. When we have competition it is as though the body competes for resources. Parts of the body obtain a surplus and waste much while other parts of the body are starving. The right hand competes with the left. It takes a hammer and smashes its opponent. Yes the right hand is the victor and the left hand has lost. There is pain and suffering as the loser becomes useless and no longer serves the body. But does the right hand not lose as well? The whole body suffers the loss of the left hand and therefore the right hand also loses. It must now work harder to do that which the left hand had done in the past.

In a co-operative society there are no losers. The whole body wins because the whole body co-operates towards the well-being of the body. Now, if any part of the body is not functioning and contributing to the whole, the rest of the body co-operates and aids it to heal so it can contribute. Not only is a job found for each member of society, but the right job that is suited to that part of the body is found so that body functions efficiently. If the left hand is trying to do work suited to the right hand while the right hand is labouring to do the job of a foot, the body does not do well. Once the jobs are matched up with capabilities, the body will function as it should. Thus it is imperative that the brains of the body assign jobs to each cell in the body so that every part does exactly what it should do and when it should do it. Now we have co-operation and the body wins. In order for the body to win, no part of it can be considered a loser.  

Until we give up our competitive nature, I do not believe that we have learned the lesson that slavery has taught us. Those who win the competition need to realize they are losing at life.

In my book, The Alternative, I examine the slavery system of the 19th century and show the effects it had on individuals. Although the story was totally made up, it was based on observations of historical figures such as Solomon Northup, Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington. These ones saw slavery from the slaves perspective but also saw the effect it was having on the slave owning class. When Frederick Douglass observed, for his first time, the efficiency of labour in the North he was amazed at how the South had been blinded by the slavery system. Douglass observed, “An old ox, worth eighty dollars, was doing, in New Bedford, what would have required fifteen thousand dollars worth of human bones and muscles to have performed in a southern port.”[i]

Thus The Alternative explores what would have happened if the south became enlightened. Perhaps they would have done away with their competitive natures and introduced co-operation at an early time. If that had happened, society would be greatly more advanced than it is at present. Unfortunately we still have much ground to cover before we can rid the world of the evils that were around during the time of slavery.

[i] Douglass, Frederick (2013-04-28). The Frederick Douglass Collection: 8 Classic Works (Kindle Locations 4031-4033). Waxkeep Publishing. Kindle Edition.