Friday, March 8, 2013

In the fight for freedom, never sleep

Book Review: Henry Brown’s Radical Times

Radical Times is a short novella – only 45 pages – but it’s long on story. The story is that of Pick Garver and his return to his Arkansas home after the Civil War. The town of Tanner’s Grove had changed during his absence and he knew that, as a Southern boy who had fought for the Northern army, he could expect a chilly reception.
But not from everyone. Two people in particular are happy to have him back. Huddy and his sister Venus had been slaves – and Pick’s best friends – when the three of them were growing up on a plantation owned by Pick’s uncle. Now they were free and Pick would soon find out if that would change his friendship with Huddy – and whether his secret love affair with Venus could resume in a country that had emancipated its slaves, but still did not accept them as equals.

Indeed, many in Tanner’s Grove are determined that would never happen. The Confederate Army may have given up, but they had not. If necessary, they would use torches and pistols to guarantee that blacks remained second-class citizens.

Pick recognizes a difficult road ahead. He tells a meeting of (mostly black) Republicans:

Those who agree with me just won a war so that all Americans will be free.…But it’s not enough that we won a war with rifles and cannons. If we want freedom to last, we have to win a war with words, ideas, and ballots. I hope you don’t think it’s going to be easy.…Yes, we won this war. You can sigh; just don’t sleep.
It’s a message that is as clear and relevant in 2013 – when freedom is once again under attack - as it was in 1865.

Michael Isenberg is the author of Full Asylum, a novel about politics, freedom, and hospital gowns. Check it out on