I'd like to say thank you to everyone who has supported me on my journey to completing my first novel. To those of you who don't know me or my work and are visiting this page for the first time, welcome.

Over the next few weeks, I hope to share with you a little of my progress as I begin research on my new book -- a yet-to-be titled historical novel, set in the 1920s and involving the founding and establishment of The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the predominently African-American labor union, led by A. Philip Randolph. Sleeping car porters worked on the railroads, cleaning and preparing sleeping cars and acting as valets and waiters for passengers. The union struggled for more than a decade before they received recognition and equity from the Pullman Company.

As part of my research, I'll be traveling by train from Oakland to New York City, following the path of those porters from years ago. This trip will include a visit to the A. Philip Randolph Museum in Chicago. Along the way, I'll be sharing with you what I learn and experience. Thank you for coming along.

Friday, June 22, 2007


Two weeks before I begin my trip and I feel anxious and unprepared. I realize that there is so much more for me to do and perhaps I need to be in Chicago for far longer than I planned. I have to remind myself that this is the beginning -- the beginning of long research process that will last until the book is done. As usual, I have my doubts about whether or not I am up to the task of writing the book that is in my head.

I also have my doubts about how much I want you to know about my doubts, my plans, my work. It seems so much more ideal to present you with novel, completed and done, with its shoes polished and tied, hair combed and Sunday-go-to-Church clothes on than to have you watch the messy process that it takes to get there. Do you really want to know? Maybe you want to know but do you want to see it? Do I want you to see it? I feel rather vulnerable and slightly self-involved to expose myself this way; yet, here I am. (I'm also just a little suspicious I'm using this to avoid work) So why do it? Because I think the subject of the book is more important than I am. I hope that people learn something about these men and women and the meaning of dignity, which seems to be tragically lacking these days.

So far, in my reading, I am find that these men and women had such dignity and self-respect. They remind me of my grandfather and men, like him, who don't seem to exist anymore. I was reminded of this when I was teaching A Raisin in the Sun a few semesters ago and one of my students asked why didn't the Younger family take the money that was offered to them to move out of a white neighborhood. We got into a discussion about dignity and integrity. Essentially, what I learned from this group of students is that those things were simply not as important as money.(Putting money before all else results in tragedies, like the Pinto, Jerry Springer and R. Kelly's In the Closet.)

I was so saddened by it, especially when I think about all the sacrifices (racial, cultural, familial) that have been made so that they could be in that classroom, having that discussion about a play written by a Black woman, no less. My students seemed indifferent to that. That indifference is dangerous.

I know I am in danger of romanticizing the past, but I also know that the men and women who fought to establish The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters paved the way for other opportunities -- economic ones for their families and social ones for the community. Do they know that A. Philip Randolph, founder of the BSCP, organized the March on Washington? If that march hadn't taken place, we might not even know the name of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Much less have a street named after him in every predominantly black city in America)

But I'm not going to start on this woeful note because the beginning of a novel is a beautiful thing and I'm in love. I'm in love with characters I don't even know yet and I'm in love with the possibilities. Your book is the best book ever written before you get started. I have no idea what is coming next. I'm just ready to enjoy the journey.

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© 2008 L. Rebecca Harris