With a reputation as a player, Malachi “Mal” July is now a recovering alcoholic and has made progress in redeeming himself in the eyes of his family and the citizens of Henry Adams, Kansas. He’s not only turned his diner into a profitable business, but also mentors the town’s foster kids. And he’s even staying true to one woman—Bernadine Brown.
But a moment of pride makes Mal betray his friends and family, and lose Bernadine’s trust and love. Can he win her forgiveness?
Meanwhile Homecoming Weekend is fast approaching, and store owner Gary Clark is reunited with his high school sweetheart. The spark is still there, but is it too late for second chances?
A little help from the good people of Henry Adams may give both Mal and Gary the best second chance at the happiness they missed the first time around…
From the Author:
(Originally published in BRING ON THE BLESSINGS by Beverly Jenkins)
My fictional town of Henry Adams, Kansas, made its debut in 1994 as the setting for my first published novel, Night Song. The story takes place in 1882 and is centered around the town’s school teacher, Cara Lee Henson, and the love she finds with Sgt. Chase Jefferson, a Tenth Cavalry Buffalo soldier. It also highlights the little known history of the Great Exodus of 1879 and the thousands of Black people who migrated west after the fall of Reconstruction. The newspapers of the time dubbed the Exodus “Kansas Fever” because it was the destination many of the Dusters chose.
The most famous town of course was Nicodemus, founded in 1877 in the Great Solomon Valley in Graham County, Kansas. During the 1880s Nicodemus flourished. There was a sizeable population, a newspaper, churches, and many successful businesses, but when the train spur promised by the Missouri Pacific never materialized the area began its decline. By the end of WWII Nicodemus was all but dead. However, the hopes and dreams of the founders continued to live on in the few descendants that remained, and on November 12,1996, an act of Congress placed Nicodemus on the National Register of Historical sites, thus making it an official unit of the National Parks Service. More recently, the population has risen and an annual reunion is held to honor the past. I like to place my stories where Black folks really walked and it was out of historic townships like Nicodemus that my fictional town Henry Adams came to be.
Although the town of Henry Adams is a product of my imagination, the man for whom it is named was very much real. Born into slavery, he served three years with the United States Colored Troops (USCT) and was twenty-two when the war ended. His first act as a free man was to see if he could travel across Louisiana without a pass. The journey didn’t go well. He was accosted, beaten and shown that he was no more free than he’d been before the war, so he took it upon himself to investigate conditions elsewhere in the South.
With the help of other Black vets and the members of local vigilance societies Adams sent five hundred men into the fields with orders to infiltrate plantations and farms and report back with their findings. He personally spent fourteen years in places like Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas compiling evidence, organizing laborers and showing rural freedman how to exercise their newly won rights. His notes were later given to Congress during the hearings convened surrounding the Exodus. Historian Dorothy A. Sterling calls Adams a one man investigating committee. I call him remarkable and as I noted in my novel, Winds of the Storm, which features Adams’s shadowy investigative network, a full historical treatment of his accomplishments to the race and to American history is long overdue.
Now, to Bring on the Blessings, or BOB as it was called during its creation. Like Bernadine’s quest, BOB grew out of an article featured in the July 7, 2002 issue of Parade Magazine. It was titled “A Place Called Hope,” and written by Lou Ann Walker. Hope Meadows, the town’s true name was founded by University of Illinois sociology professor Brenda Krause Eheart. Her dream was to establish a viable intergenerational community of foster parents, children and seniors complete with all the values and love of the small town she grew up in. After a long and frustrating road of phone calls and faxes she ultimately convinced the US Government to let her use an abandoned Air Force base in Rantoul, Illinois, as the site. Because of her field of study, Eheart knew first hand of the struggles faced by foster children and the dire future faced by those who never leave the system.
I cut my teeth as a writer of historical romance. Many of my novels are set in nineteenth-century small towns. For years my agent has been after me to pen a small town kind of novel, and for just as many years I never gave it serious consideration because I was content writing award winning historical romance and contemporary romantic suspense, but when I read the Walker article, the story was so moving that just like Bernadine I put the magazine away with the idea of maybe doing something along its lines in the future. That future came to be during the summer of 2007. My agent was in contract negotiations with my editor at Avon and suggested it might be time for that small town book. I’d like to say I was gung-ho ready. I wasn’t, but she convinced me to step out of my comfort zone and to give it a try.
As the story began to form in my head, I knew Bernadine with her Oprah-like money would be the engine and that I wanted to create my own fictional version of Hope Meadows. There would be foster children of course, and elders, and the town would have the old school values that were so prevalent when I grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s, but where to place the story? During my writing career I have created two fictional 19th century towns: Grayson Grove, Michigan and Henry Adams, Kansas. I toyed with the Michigan town for a while, but as more characters came to the table with the surname July, I settled on Henry Adams. During that initial phase I also knew the town would sell itself on eBay. The precedent for that is Bridgeville California. The residents sold the town on eBay in 2002 for seven hundred thousand dollars. The BBC Internet report on the sale was something else I cut out and saved with the idea of using the quirky detail sometime somewhere.
Zoey was the first of the foster children to appear to me. Her physical description is based on a little girl named Elizabeth who attends my church. The first time I saw Elizabeth I knew I had to put her in a book, so she became Zoey, even though her life doesn’t mirror Zoey’s in any way. Amari came next followed by Devon and Preston. Preston’s opening scene with the foster parent refusing to buy him an inhaler came out of a similar story told to me by a family social worker, only that real child was a three year old toddler. I thought I had all of the kids formed and accounted for, but then Crystal showed up hitchhiking on that rainy night in Dallas, so she was added to the cast of characters as well.
My editor asked me what I wanted readers to take away from this story. My first hope is that you enjoyed meeting Bernadine and the residents of Henry Adams. My second is that the story moves at least one person to look into fostering or adoption. There are thousands of children waiting for loving homes in states all over this nation. A disproportionate number of them are African-American, and the hardest to place are sibling groups, children with special needs and teens. If you don’t wish to foster or adopt as my late husband and I did, there are myriad organizations working for children that could use your help. How about your local Boys and Girls club, the Y, the Salvation Army or the youth program where you worship? Can you volunteer or mentor? As Bernadine said, we all have gifts we can share with a child. When you touch a child you can change a life so please consider sharing yours.
If you would like the back story on the original residents of Henry Adams please see my novels, Night Song and Something Like Love. For the back story on Colonel Payne’s ancestor Deputy Marshal Dixon Wildhorse and the fascinating bittersweet history of the Black Seminoles, please see my novel, Topaz. For more information on the Great Exodus of 1879, Henry Adams the man, and other historical underpinnings that led to the creation of BOB, please see the sources below.
Burton, Arthur T. Black, Red and Deadly. Austin, Texas: Eakin Press, 1991.
Foner, Eric. Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877. New York: Harper and Row, 1988.
Katz, William Loren. The Black West. Garden City, New York: Anchor Books, 1973.
Painter, Nell Irvin. Exodusters: Black Migration to Kansas After Reconstruction. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 1986.
Sterling, Dorothy A. The Trouble They Seen: Black People Tell the Story of Reconstruction. New York: Doubleday, 1976.
Littlefield, Daniel Jr. and Lonnie E. Underhill, “Negro Marshals in the Indian Territory.” Journal of Negro History. 56 (April 1971).
Mooney, Charles. “Bass Reeves, Black Deputy U.S. Marshal.” Real West (July 1976).
Thybony, Scott. “The Black Seminole: A Traditon of Courage.” Smithsonian, vol 22, no.5 (August 1991).
Well, I guess that’s it. Hope you enjoyed the story. Until next time, be blessed.