On this day in 1912 at 10 o’clock in the morning, the murder trial of sixteen-year-old Virginia Christian opened in the Elizabeth City County Courthouse, Hampton, Virginia.
An African-American girl, “Virgie,” as she was called, was convicted of killing her white employer, Ida Belote, a fifty-one-year-old widow.
Virgie died in the electric chair at the state penitentiary in Richmond the day after her seventeenth birthday. She is the only female juvenile executed in Virginia history.
In February 2016 NewSouth Books of Montgomery, Alabama, will publish Forsaken, my first novel, which opens with the trial and execution of this girl and dives deep into the poisonous waters of Jim Crow Virginia.
For me, the publication of the book will be the fulfillment of a dream born when I was Virgie’s age. But like the novel, the achievement is bittersweet.
I’ll be sixty-five years old when Forsaken is released. I’ll be a debut novelist who just enrolled with Medicare. Many of the family members, school teachers, and college professors I most would have wanted to see its publication are long since gone.
What’s more, any sensible reader might reasonably inquire, “What could a sixty-five-year old white man have to say about a sixteen-year-old black girl who lived during the rise of racial segregation in Progressive-era Virginia?”
In the weeks ahead, please return to this site. I’ll do my best to answer that question and others. I’ll tell you about the creative process I followed to research and write the book and provide background on the history and politics of the times, times fraught with wrenching change, blighted hope, and sometimes brutal cruelty.
I’ll fill in the lives of the historical figures I came across in my research, figures who absolutely would not let me turn away, figures I wanted to bring to life in hopes they might help us today live lives of understanding, tolerance, and empathy. The events in Forsaken are tragic, but the story is one of redemption and hope.