I first became interested in history when I was a youngster spending summers on my grandparents' farm in Oberlin, Ohio. I would often hear the older people talk about the past, including the black men from Oberlin who had gone with John Brown on his raid at Harpers Ferry. As I was growing up, I also heard my father and other black veterans talk about their experiences in World War II. One of my father's friends had been a pilot with the Tuskegee Airmen, and was shot down over Germany, where he spent two years or so in a prisoner-of-war camp.
These were aspects of the African-American experience that I couldn't find in any books, or movies. I always wondered why they were left out, and I thought it was so unfair. I knew it was done on purpose because these men were black, and I became determined to one day tell the truth about what black people had accomplished in this country.
For instance, when I was growing up, I had no idea that black soldiers fought in the Civil War. There were over 100 black regiments in the Union Army, and Abraham Lincoln said that without them, the North would have lost the war. Think of what that means. Without black soldiers, there would not be a United States of America as we now know it. But how many Americans are aware of that fact about the most important event in the history of this country?
I attended Goddard University and majored in English and psychology. I went to graduate school at Columbia University and studied journalism. I wanted to be a journalist because it seemed the best way to break into writing, and also because I saw so much distortion in the media about the lives of African Americans in this country. I wanted to try and change that. Unfortunately, the distortions are still with us.
As a journalist, I covered a lot of stories that dealt with children, especially in the field of education. One thing I noticed was that there was a hunger among children for the truth about themselves and the society they lived in. There was a special hunger among African-American children for knowledge about their past — a knowledge they didn't get from the media and a knowledge they also usually failed to get from their schools. So I began to write for children.
I hope my writing will open at least a few eyes to the truth about the history of this country. It is a history to which all of us — whatever race, religion, gender, or nationality we are — have contributed. But most of the writing about history tells us only about the contributions of white males, and often doesn't even deal with them in an honest way.
I write because I'd like to see children and everyone else learn about the true history so many of them don't even suspect exists.