Chapin House Books, the popular book division of The Florida Historical Society Press, is proud to announce the release of Overhead The Sun, a gripping historical novel about race relations in Florida during the late Nineteenth Century. Written by the late John Ashworth, Overhead The Sun is based on the tragic story of Rosewood, a small Florida community of African-Americans that was destroyed by a mob of whites in 1923. John Ashworth taught writing at Columbia University, worked as a journalist for the Office of War Information during World War II and worked as a journalist for the Hindustan Times and the Boston Transcript. In addition, he wrote for Harper’s, the Atlantic Monthly and other major national magazines. He was also a playwright. His O. Henry Award winning short story, High Diver, was made into a film by Universal Studios. Overhead The Sun is Ashworth’s last novel. During the 1950s, he compiled interviews with the survivors of the Rosewood tragedy. John Ashworth died in 1993 and did not live to see the descendants of the Rosewood massacre win a large monetary settlement from the State of Florida, which acknowledged its failure to protect African-American citizens. The central character in Overhead The Sun is Julia Clayton, a young woman striving mightily to achieve emotional and intellectual independence. Her husband, Tom Clayton, works for Arthur Wilkins (who is based on the real life person of Henry Flagler) who seeks to extend his hotel and railroad empire across the Sunshine State. Neglected and verbally abused, Julia Clayton takes a heretical economics professor, Thorstein Brach, as her lover. The intrigues and conflicts of personality that mark these tortured relationships light up the pages of Overhead The Sun.
Note from Editor:
Overhead the Sun is a period novel that graphically captures the essence of race relations in the post-Civil War period. It is a novel about the changing relationships between whites and blacks in Florida in the aftermath of emancipation, a period when both races sought desperately to establish a new social equilibrium that would govern society for decades to come. It is also a novel that documents the triumph of the institution of Jim Crow in the Sunshine State during the latter part of the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries. The Jim Crow system of segregation was based on the belief by southern whites that their former slaves were inferior—and immoral—creatures.
To reinforce this belief, words were used to drive home white superiority at every turn. With each use of such words—nigger, burr head, coon, pickaninny—by whites, they conjured up stereotypes of African-Americans as sub-humans, with no rights and no likelihood of gaining any. As much as anything else, the use of derogative terms was an attempt by dominant whites to convince themselves that they had the right to continue the oppression of African-Americans.
It has become the socially correct thing to do to purge the “N” word from conversations and writings. We heartily concur with this movement. There is no reason for any enlightened or educated person to use that word in any present context—even as a sometimes reference by African-Americans to others of the same race. So, too, are terms like “honky,” “peckerwood,” or “redneck” denigrating and offensive to whites. Similarly, the use of words like “kike” or “greaser” is offensive to other sections of our population. They, like the “N” word, should be eliminated from our vocabularies. When writing history or historical fiction, however, the use of such words reflects the reality of the period and not the situation today.