Book examines painful truths
Published 9:44 pm Tuesday, February 11, 2020
Black History Month offers an opportunity each February for Americans to celebrate the huge role African Americans have played in America’s history.
It’s an opportunity for blacks and whites to study the long and often painful path that African Americans have trod during the 400 years since they were first brought to our shores in chains.
This year, Isle of Wight native Jeffrey Blount has provided an opportunity for people of all races to examine the very painful journey that young blacks have often had to undertake in order to become successful members of society.
Blount, who attended public schools here during the earliest days of integration, obtained a degree in broadcast journalism from Virginia Commonwealth University and then, focusing on the creative side of television news, he became the director of Meet The Press, the Today Show and NBC Nightly News.
Now retired from that extraordinary career, he is devoting his talent and energy to writing fiction, and has recently published “The Emancipation of Evan Walls.”
Blount’s protagonist is young Evan Walls, son of a prominent black couple in the rural Virginia town of Canaan — a town that looks a lot like Smithfield.
The book follows Evan’s painful youth as a bright young student struggling to adjust to school integration and learning, to his dismay, that his biggest challenge comes from blacks who see him as something of a traitor trying to “act white” by working diligently to succeed academically. He is ostracized and even beaten by peers, but even worse, endures the wrath of his parents and brother, who believe that blacks can only be safe within their own historic cultural setting and should not try to reach outside of it.
Blount readily acknowledges that the book is, to a degree, autobiographical, recalling that during his school years many of his best friends were white.
But it is indeed fiction, and those who tackle this very painful look at a very difficult problem — particularly people who grew up here — need to understand that going into it.
Jeffrey Blount’s parents have been loving, encouraging and always supportive of their three sons. They are, in fact, the antithesis of Walls’ fictional parents. Edward and Doris Blount raised their family in their home on Blount’s Corner Road and encouraged all three to study hard and reach for the stars.
All three did, and all three succeeded. The oldest, Richard, became an engineer and retired after a successful career with Dominion Power. The next, Brian, became a minister and theological scholar and today is president of Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond. And Jeffrey’s talent took him to the highest levels of broadcast journalism.
Jeffrey said he portrayed Walls’ parents as he did because the attitude of that fictional couple was a necessary element of the story line, which is a composite picture of the difficulties many young blacks did and still do face.
Jeffrey is currently on a national book tour and a couple of weeks ago was in Norfolk, where he was the guest on Barbara Hamm Lee’s “Another View” on WHRV.
He was asked pointedly why he chose to air what many blacks feel is “dirty linen” within the African American community.
Blount was frank in his response.
“African American children who are intellectually inclined are killing themselves because they are dealing with this issue. The bullying was so bad that an eight-year-old in Cincinnati recently killed himself. Two 12-year-old girls took their lives when they were bullied to that point because they liked science and math.
“We need to look inside ourselves and our community and recognize that we’ve reached the point where it’s not just a conversation anymore. Once those stories appear in the paper, the dirty laundry is out there. To pretend we should keep it in the house and tamp it down is wrong. How many more children will we allow it to happen to?” he asked.
Jeffrey Blount’s novel is not fun to read. It’s downright painful, but it provides a vital element of context to understanding the long and difficult struggle the African American community has endured as it has tried to take its rightful place in American society.
I commend Jeffrey for having the courage to introduce us to Even Walls, and recommend it to anyone who wants a deeper understanding of our complex and painful history of race relations.
If you would like to hear the interview with Blount, you can find it archived at https://mediaplayer.whro.org/program/anotherview/e/anotherview-thursday-january-30th-2020