MINORITY YOUNGSTER TERRORIZED, HATE GROUP RALLIES, AND VIETNAM LOOMS IN CHARLESTON-BASED HISTORICAL NOVEL

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Based on actual events, Brutal Exclusions focuses on life in Charleston, SC, during a decade that changed history: The Sixties.
After a school bus is toppled by eight Charleston businessmen in protest against school desegregation, Alethea Jamison, the only African American youngster on a bus full of white children, suffers Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The review below explains Dann's motivation in writing the novel, as well as tells a bit of BE's evolution.

Submitted: September 26, 2015

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Submitted: September 26, 2015

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In the South Carolina town of Lamar at the close of the turbulent Sixties, two hundred angry white adults overturned a school bus full of African American children to protest school desegregation. In the preceding weeks, over three thousand white students had already boycotted Darlington County schools, some carrying protest signs stating their refusal to sit in classrooms with black students.

It is with a similar incident that Brutal Exclusions, a novel by Dann Hazel, begins, though the setting has been changed to Charleston, South Carolina. Rather than a bus filled with African American children, Hazel’s bus is full of white children, with the single exception of a six-year-old black first-grader named Alethea Jamison. Such an exception is not merely a convenient convention of fiction in Hazel’s novel; it is based on a critical reality during the Jim Crow era in the South. Public school officials, in order to appear in compliance with the Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education, frequently admitted only one black child or a small handful of black children into their predominantly white schools. Many of these students reported incessant bullying by their white peers, as well as verbal abuse by some of their white teachers.

“I finished writing the original manuscript of Brutal Exclusions in the mid-seventies,” the author notes. “Then, I shelved it because I recognized that I was too young to adequately handle the subject matter. My story, then, was much too raw for publication. After white supremacist Dylan Roof murdered ten African American church members in Charleston, I decided it was time to revisit the book with a more mature perspective.”

What Hazel found in storage was a typewritten manuscript composed by a very young man with literary aspirations. Yet, despite many rough edges, it told a compelling story. “I spent several months in the process of rewriting, and rewriting some more,” he said. “What I found to be most useful in the manuscript was the accuracy of historical details. In a sense, I had unwittingly produced an excellent journal of a tragic time in America’s history. And the early version made many references to Charleston locations, businesses, and even a few local public figures from the late 1960s.”

In fact, Hazel’s formative years were largely shaped by events happening during this time period. “I grew up in the Sixties in a small South Carolina town in the northwest part of the state,” he explained. “There, as in many towns, racism was ugly and rampant. As a young boy, I recall visiting my family’s doctor whose waiting rooms were segregated. I enjoyed movies in a theatre where African Americans were mandated to sit in the balcony. Even a separate upstairs concession stand was opened for them, since white customers would refuse to stand in line at the concession stand downstairs. I saw ‘For Whites Only’ signs on bathroom doors and above water fountains. ‘Members Only’ printed on signs at various venues was code that African Americans were not welcome. Even church ministers discussed with their congregations how their church should collectively respond if an African American showed up for Sunday morning worship. Growing up, I heard some of the vilest racist rhetoric; there was a time when I began to believe it must be true. Then, in middle school, after joining the band, I met a black student, the only African American student enrolled in this school, who ultimately became my best friend through high school, when we parted ways to pursue our undergraduate degrees. As a result of my friendship with him, I knew what I had been taught was wrong on so many levels.”

While race is the predominant theme in Brutal Exclusions, other issues arising as part of the social consciousness were not ignored. Placing the story in Charleston, whose history is so closely tied to slavery, race and the Civil War, provided a setting larger than Lamar, and perhaps more conducive to doing justice to those issues. “My characters are those for whom such issues as feminism, gay rights, ‘free love,’ Black Power, Vietnam, organized crime, and distrust of the establishment are very pivotal issues,” Hazel explains. “I have such a strong affinity for each and every one. However, Alethea Jamison, the black youngster on the overturned bus, is the character around which much of the story revolves. As a result of the trauma she experiences, she suffers from symptoms of PTSD. She can’t speak; she has horrible dreams—that is, whenever she is able to sleep—as well as terrifying hallucinations. Her family, as well as a few supportive members of the community, both black and white, rally around her. But can justice be served in a city where long family lineages often dictate who’s in power? And what happens when an individual discovers that a close family member is partially responsible for harming a child? Those are just two questions among many that propel the narrative.”

Hazel, who has a doctorate in psychology, has always had an interest in cultural diversity, including race, ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation. Additionally, as he pursued his degree, he found his niche in the arena of positive psychology, which emphasizes human strengths for living a full life while de-emphasizing psychopathology. The topics of psychological well-being, social morality, and thriving particularly interested him. “I’d like to think that Brutal Exclusions reflects those interests, as well as what I’ve learned from pursuing them,” he said. “My principal characters are often able to surmount their personal challenges and moral shortcomings. Those shortcomings include racism—though, of course, not everyone in the novel, as in reality, is able to evolve. When one cannot change, even when society demands it, we must ask: What are the consequences? Sometimes they are dire; sometimes not so much. Still, there is always a price to pay.”

Despite the fact that Brutal Exclusions does not always depict Charleston in a positive light, Hazel emphasizes that, in a way, “this novel is a love letter to that city. I lived in the Charleston area for thirty years. I found life there to be invigorating, often outrageous, sometimes frustrating, but always engaging. I knew many wonderful people of various backgrounds and ethnicities. Most were good, caring individuals with a live-and-let-live attitude. In Charleston, I grew into personhood. I feel something of the same attachment to that beautiful city as my characters do.”

Brutal Exclusions, by Dann Hazel, is published by The Original Press, and is available now in both paper and e-book formats. Hazel currently lives with his spouse, Josh Fippen, and their Siberian Husky, Rocky, in the historic city of Lake Wales, Florida. In addition to his work as a writer, Hazel is also an educator, media psychologist, and life coach.


© Copyright 2019 dannhazel. All rights reserved.

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