I have to call this a wonderful challenge. Being forced to look back at a particular place in my lifetime, which I had tried to drown in the depths of my being, I've found some solace in dredging up the negative experiences. When Martha contacted my cousin Cole, he was not aware I’d be so vulnerable, but he knew something inside me deserved exposure. He was so right. Sharing my experiences for the book woke me up. Now, I’m just attempting to accept the facts of my life.
MK Eddleman is a mother daughter writing team. M stands for Martha, the mother of the team. K stands for Katherine, her daughter.
Sheryl Williams and MK Eddleman would like to address the issue of race before readers begin A Call to Courage. A white woman writing about a black woman’s experience in 1967 Mississippi raises questions. How could any white person know the accumulated indignities, angst and fear resulting from centuries of segregation? The answer is, she couldn’t.
Martha: My husband, son, six-year-old daughter Katherine and I lived in Mississippi during the Civil Rights movement. For years, I have wanted to write about our enlightening and sometimes frightening involvement with the Head Start program and the newly integrated public schools. As I started to write, I had to find a way to recall accurate details of events that forever shaped my life. I watched countless hours of interviews recorded by the Library of Congress/Smithsonian Voices of Civil Rights project of black men and women who worked and fought for justice. I realized the story I had in mind was so much deeper than what my family and I experienced.
Slowly, a new fictionalized version of events, with a heavy emphasis on the struggle to achieve full voting rights, took shape. But I knew if I were going to write about the courage it took to fight for rights, I needed the perspective of someone who had lived the experience, someone who fully understood all the nuances of the physical threat, psychological anxiety and emotional trauma associated with bigotry and violence. Cole Powell, a friend of mine, suggested his cousin Sheryl Williams, a 72-year-old African American who lives in Florida.
The moment I connected with Sheryl, a collaboration was in the making. Daily we talked on the telephone. In time, she embraced the concept and began adding to the storyline from personal experiences. As we talked about our understandings of past events, we created A Call to Courage. At the end of each day of writing, I sent rough drafts to Sheryl. She would read the day’s work, then accept, add or correct the manuscript. She made sure the characters and tone representing black culture in 1967 were authentic. Though the book references real events and details from many diverse lives, the characters in A Call to Courage are fictionalized. Once we were finished, I sent our work to Katherine who edited with a discerning eye for detail and imaginative understanding of storyline. She spent many hours adding her insightful perspective to each event before she gave her final approval.
Sheryl: I’d like to thank my cousin Cole Powell for recommending and introducing me to Martha Eddleman. I never envisioned having such an opportunity to be a part of a novel that I helped create. I initially approached the work with questions of commitment from the author. Why did a white woman hold onto the negative experiences? I had tried to put similar experiences or events away somewhere. This story really hits home for me. Some events happened and even worse. A friend of mine and her parents, her dad a minister, had to leave Mississippi after her dad was accused of touching a white woman inappropriately. They were terrified, afraid of their shadows, even in Manhattan. They were receiving death threats. A woman I met had to leave South Carolina after being impregnated by a law officer. He threatened to kill her if she stayed. She found refuge with my neighbor, who was her sister, until she gave birth to a baby boy. Recalling some of the indignities I personally was privy to (as well as my grandparents and other persons I’ve known) these were expected to be normal, part of a brown skin person’s life, with no complaints. Complaints could cause cross burnings or house burnings or even loss of life.
During my many conversations with Martha, I discovered though our skin color was different, our souls were held together by a common thread. Our self -expressions were worded differently, but her passion was greater than mine. I was so accustomed to accepting a degree of bigotry without a fight, I’ve lived a great part of my life as isolated as the world would or will allow, oft times being termed a hermit. I love everyone; however, I truly enjoy being left alone.
Katherine: Mom and I are collaborative by nature. We approach each project differently. In this book, Sheryl and mom are the creative entities; I am the bricks and mortar. When mom came to me with this concept, I encouraged her to move forward, as I knew our experiences in Mississippi, both mutual and distinct, impacted our perspectives on life. I believe conversations about difficult subjects need to be held both privately and publicly. This story is the result of private conversations between two deeply creative women who took a risk to write A Call to Courage. I strive to be as courageous as they.
We would like to thank all our readers - Tom Anderson, Linda Berzok, Doris Bobo, Bob Drach, Ro LaFrancesca, Georgia Lambert, Karen McClave, Cole Powell, Beverly Preslik-Gerbracht, Myrna Loy Riles, Carol Shaw, David Silberman, Linda Starnes, and Claudia Wanlin. All were fearless in their reviews and suggestions yet generous with their encouragement and time.
Finally, thanks to Donald McGuire and Brighton Publishing for their confidence in the book and Tom Rodriguez for designing the perfect cover.
We hope the story resonates with all readers.