From the Booking Desk:
On Saturday, October 22, Thomas Mullen spoke to a gathering of readers at Politics and Prose Bookstore in Washington, DC. For those that might have missed the BOLO Books review of Darktown, you can find that here.
Thomas Mullen opened the event by talking a bit about how his relocation to Atlanta, Georgia led to his discovery of this lesser-known part of our history. He discovered that the powers-to-be had agreed to allow African-American men onto the police force if they were able to demonstrate that they could create a significant voting block to make such a move worthwhile. Remember, this was 1948 – pre-Civil Rights Movement.
This came to pass and eight black men were hired as policeman. Of course, this job came with restrictions: They could only patrol the black neighborhoods, they couldn’t meet in the official precinct (because that might lead to a race riot), they couldn’t wear their uniforms to and from work (because they were at risk of being attacked while alone), and most importantly, they couldn’t arrest white people. This last was not considered a problem by those in charge because surely if they were only patrolling the black neighborhoods, they would never witness a white person committing a crime.
And there in, Thomas Mullen realized a story existed! That writer’s old friend “What If?”
Thomas Mullen spoke of how he didn’t need to write about foreign totalitarian regimes, when all he had to do was go back to America’s history. After the Atlanta race riots of 1906, the city had become even more segregated. Mullen began his research and Darktown developed.
Thomas made a point of saying that this novel was not a response to or inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. The first draft of his novel was complete before Michael Brown and the events of Ferguson occurred. But of course, he recognizes that his story reverberates in light of these current events and highlights the fact that issues still remain.
Darktown is the start of a series, but Mullen explained that while future books will contain some of the same characters, the stories will address the ever-changing role of race during the entire Civil Rights Movement – which the city of Atlanta is just on the cusp of during the plot of Darktown.
During the question and answer session, I asked Thomas if he ever worried about being a white author tackling what some might say was a “black” story. I made reference to Ben Winters and the controversy and venomous attacks he faced after the publication of Underground Airlines – attacks which I feel it is again important to mention had more to do with the New York Times article about that book, rather then stemming from the novel itself.
As one would hope, Thomas Mullen insisted that we must allow authors to tell the stories they feel compelled to. He said that if we expect readers to be empathetic about characters who are different than themselves, how can we not allow the same for the tellers of those tales? And to that, I say – AMEN!
The event ended with the signing of books. Darktown will be on my Top Reads of 2016 list, so if you haven’t read this wonderful novel, please do so. This is an important part of our collective history which must be known and understood before any healing can begin.