The novel, Freeman by Leonard Pitts, Jr. covers a sparsely followed part of American history. It is set during the time immediately after the end of the Civil War and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. During that turbulent time, many people were trying to find their respective places in a world that almost literally had been turned upside down. In the context of this novel, former slave owners were forced to adjust to a life where slavery was no longer a legal institution and former slaves were eagerly trying to stake a claim to their freedom.
Sam, a newly freed slave living in Philadelphia, was determined to take the arduous trip on foot to Mississippi to find the wife he was separated from fifteen years ago when he was sold to another slave master. On the way to the heart of southern racial inequality, he loses an arm, severely injures his foot and endures a near death beating. Adding to his misery, he also sees former slaves dragged back into involuntary servitude or accosted for no good reason or lynched. Prudence, a fiercely independent White woman, makes her way to the South to start a school for recently emancipated Negroes to honor the wish of her dying father. Tilda, the woman Sam is risking all to find, is forced at gunpoint by her former master to take a dangerous journey to Arkansas as he seeks a land where he can stubbornly hold onto his slave master lifestyle.
As can be expected from any book that deals with the brutal realities of slavery, tragedy tends to dog the footsteps of Blacks while Whites somehow manage to almost literally get away with murder. However, even as the worst aspects of human nature are on display in this novel, a glimmer of hope and inspiration stubbornly peeks through the doom and gloom. Freeman is essentially a love story and this book focusses on the rarely reported instances of freed slaves fighting the odds to reunite with loved ones they were forcibly separated from.
Will Sam find the love of his life that he doesn’t even know if she is still alive? Will Tilda’s forced trip to Arkansas lead her away from or nearer to the man she hasn’t seen in fifteen years? If somehow their paths do cross, will it be possible for them to reignite the love they shared before they were ripped apart from each other a decade and a half ago? What possible role can a good hearted White woman play in this unlikely story of love?
Everyone likes an intriguing love story, right? Well, this is a twisted tale of “boy meets girl” that opens the eyes of some and re-introduces to others the brutality of life for former slaves. In the midst of such tragedies, Freeman delivers its share of hope, perseverance and undaunted optimism. If you are looking for a book that features a heroic figure that faces seemingly insurmountable odds to find the woman he considers his soulmate, this book is for you. A man willing to risk everything for the sake of love; now that is book work reading.
Book review by Kevin Morgan featured in the August 2016 issue of HimPower magazine.