PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The history of the Black Pea Island surfmen is carefully chronicled in the year 2000 book Fire on the Beach.
Co-authors David Wright, now David Wright Falade, and David Zoby, who met while in graduate school at Virginia Commonwealth University, describe the often-overlooked story of how former slaves, beginning in the 1880s, rescued hundreds from the Graveyard of the Atlantic.
For this year’s Juneteenth, Wright Falade was recently recognized at the Coast Guard base in Portsmouth. He’s now a professor of English at the University of Illinois. Zoby, according to the school’s website, is now an English instructor at Casper College in Wyoming.
Regina Mobley: When I interviewed you 22 years ago, you explained that Richard Etheridge was the central figure in Fire on the Beach. 22 years later, Richard Etheridge is the central figure in your new book Black Cloud Rising. How did you make that literary leap?
David Wright Falade: All of the characters in the book are real -except for Revere- are real actual figures. They were soldiers who were in the regiment with Etheridge. Fields Midgett, who grew up with him, and[General] Edward Augustus Wild. I didn’t have to make up a lot about him; he was just this larger-than-life figure.
Black Cloud Rising is Wright Falade’s novel that reveals the untold story of a younger Richard Etheridge and other former slaves who joined the Union’s African Brigade. Over three weeks in 1863, they freed slaves from Hampton Roads to eastern North Carolina.
“They marched from Portsmouth to Elizabeth City and along the way every slave that they encountered they are going to free. This is Juneteenth in that way; that’s what it felt like to them. This is freedom; this is a great jubilee day; we are suddenly free,” said Wright Falade.
Given today’s historic but troubling events facing the nation, this professor has a lesson for those who will write the next chapters in the nation’s history.
“I want them to confront the facts of our history- white students as well as black students- any student. I don’t want us to whitewash history on one hand; I want us to complicate it We read about Nat Turner’s rebellion and then we read the Margaret Garner story that Beloved is based upon and I ask is either justified? I want to complicate the questions.
Wright Falade recently secured an option that could send Black Cloud Rising to the silver screen.