Lake Wales, FL, September 28, 2015 --(PR.com
)-- 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.
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.
“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. 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,” 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.”
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. I saw ‘For Whites Only’ signs on bathroom doors and above water fountains. 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, I met a black student, the only African American student enrolled in this school, who ultimately became my best friend through high school. 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. “Alethea Jamison, the black youngster on the overturned bus, is the character around which much of the story revolves,” Hazel says. “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?”
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. The topics of psychological well-being, social morality, and thriving particularly interested him. “I’d like to think that ‘Brutal Exclusions’ reflects those interests,” 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.”
“Brutal Exclusions” is published by The Original Press, and is available now in both paper and e-book formats.
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