Historical fiction, part II: because some stories haven’t been told
A week ago I did a general post on historical fiction. Today I want to add that historical fiction is a way to preserve (or imaginatively recreate) stories that have gone unrecorded. I’ll give you an example of what I mean.
In Longview, Texas, where I went to high school, there’s no historical marker to commemorate the experiences of thousands of black students in segregated schools. And it doesn’t look like there will be one any time soon. Why? Because the Texas Historical Commission has certain requirements for documentation. But the usual sources for this documentation–newspapers, above all–are no help because the East Texas press of the time did not include many events affecting the black community.Here’s a bit from a Longview News-Journal article on German Anderson’s efforts to overcome these barriers to recognizing an important chapter of black history:
Anderson is coming up against major gaps in the documentation required by the state to back up the history he knows is there. Some of those gaps are the result of the media of the day, including newspapers, turning a blind eye to the existence of schools serving the black population.
“There just was not much written about us then,” he said. “I know the Longview Negro High School was destroyed by fire between 1945 and 1946, but there’s nothing I’ve found written about it in any local newspapers.”
Good news didn’t get coverage, either.
“The Colored High School football team went to the state semi-finals — but there was no mention in the newspapers,” he said.
That means the history must be re-created from other sources. While a difficult task, it’s important to keep those bits of Longview history from being lost, he said.
Longview, Texas, stands for the broader situation of the black community in East Texas during past years. And while I can’t solve Anderson’s documentation problems or get that marker up, I can incorporate the stories of segregated schooling in my own writing. So while my novel-in-progress is about a tragedy that takes place in a white school during the 1930s, I also incorporate the experiences and responses of teens from the black community.
This is my way of creating a monument. But I still hope Mr. Anderson gets his marker.
(*Photo: this is the kind of marker Mr. Anderson would like to see for Longview’s former black school system. Credit: Matthew High)