Monday, November 21, 2005


The following are the prologue and first chapter of my novella in Sweet Liberty, a 4-in-1 collection published by Barbour in 2002. Coauthors are: Paige Winship Dooly, Kristy Dykes, Pamela Griffin, and Debby Mayne. Blurb: Freedom and love reign at four historical Fourth of July celebrations.

I love this story. My heroine is a former-slave-now-freewoman in the 1850s in South Carolina. As I wrote Winkie's story, I asked the Lord to help me crawl into her skin and feel the hurt and bitterness she felt at the plight of her people. I'd like to think I achieved that. Many readers wrote me with wonderful comments.

"Are you black or do you have a special gift of empathy?" one reader wrote.

"I am sharing your books with some women in my neighborhood," wrote another reader. "One friend has just renewed her faith
in the Lord Jesus after reading your novella in Sweet Liberty."

Thank the Lord!

I hope you enjoy reading some of Sweet Liberty. (It's no longer available for sale.)

"Free Indeed"
Sweet Liberty
Kristy Dykes
Author’s Note: In the 1800s, there were many black dialects in the South, including Geechee, Gullah, combinations of various kinds, even Elizabethan-sounding ones. I could’ve used Gullah which is the authentic black dialect in Charleston, South Carolina, but the dialogue would
be hard to read. To benefit my readers, I’ve sprinkled in off-grammar jargon,
the most easily-read form of dialect.

“If the Son therefore shall make you free,
ye shall be free indeed.” John 8:36

1856, Laurel Ridge Plantation,
The outskirts of Charleston, South Carolina

Two important days have shaped my future, and they both had to do with freedom. I’ll never forget the first day as long as I live...

That afternoon, I was helping Mrs. Williams, my master’s wife, get dressed. She was to entertain her friends, and I took particular pains with her light brown hair, coiling the back into the new figure-eight style chignon, fluffing the front and sides into frothy curls. I wanted her to look her very best and had even suggested she wear her rose-colored silk, which she did. Then I refashioned her maroon velvet hat, adding ribbons and peacock feathers, something I’d seen in her ladies’ magazine.

When she dismissed me, I came down the staircase of Laurel Ridge, intent on going to my quarters and checking on my little daughter Cassie. She was asleep when I left her, and I wanted to be there when she woke up. After that, I planned to bring her to the kitchen house so I could watch her while I ironed Mrs. Williams’s fine lawn underpinnings.

As I reached the last step, I lingered for a moment, thoughts of my Sweet Love Roscoe making my head swim and my heart race. My Sweet Love Roscoe lived on a neighboring plantation, and we had been allowed to jump the broom--that’s slave talk for getting married--the summer of my seventeenth year, though I was still required to keep my master’s surname.

Our blooming union--as Sweet Love Roscoe joshingly called it--had a bright spot. It had given us little Cassie. But dark clouds of despair overshadowed us when his bedeviled master issued a cruel edict after Cassie was born. He refused to let Sweet Love Roscoe see me, something that caused both of us great grief. The rare moments we spent in each other’s arms were brief and on the sly.

I wept many a night over this. Other times, I got downright angry. The only things my people would ever know were ownership by other human beings and long dreary lives of servitude--if they were lucky enough not to be lashed into early graves, a real possibility for my Sweet Love Roscoe.

The thought turned my stomach, as if I’d swallowed rancid meat, and I gripped the banister more tightly to steady my footing.

Oh, Roscoe, I cried out in my heart, oh, my Sweet Love Roscoe--

I felt so woebegone I couldn’t even hang words on my thoughts. Then I shook myself. Work waited, always waited. As I proceeded across the wide hall of Laurel Ridge, I heard a door open behind me.

“Winkie?” called my master, Mr. Williams.

I turned around, my long skirts swishing in my quick movement. “Sir?”

“I’ve something to discuss with you. Will you come into my study?”

“Yes, sir.” In moments, I was seated in front of Mr. Williams’s large mahogany desk, wondering what he had to say. Though he was far different from Sweet Love Roscoe’s stony-hearted master, still he master, and inside, I chafed at this thought.

Mr. Williams sat down in his high-backed leather chair, reached into a drawer, and pulled out some papers.

Again, I wondered why he called me in here.

“You are a free woman,” he said, eagerness in his voice, kindness in his eyes. “Here are your official papers. Winkie Williams, I’m proclaiming you free as of right now.”

I looked at him as if thunderstruck. “Free?” I finally said, trying to fathom the word that held no meaning for the likes of me.

“I’m selling the plantation, and Mrs. Williams and I are moving back to the North. I’m freeing my slaves. You’re the first one I’ve told because you’ve always been special to our family.” He pushed a paper across the desk. “Here. Take it.”

I reached for the document, dazed. Where would I go? What would I do? How would I support myself? And most importantly, what would this mean for my Sweet Love Roscoe and me? Living at Laurel Ridge, we enjoyed a few stolen moments here or there. When I left, I would never see him again.

Not ever.

Anger boiled in me. Of course I wanted my freedom. All of my people wanted their freedom. Now I had it--in my hands. I squeezed the document, and it rustled in my grip. But freedom for me meant parting with my Sweet Love Roscoe.

A venomous chuckle roared up my throat as the irony of the whole thing struck me. Slavery had been forced on me, and now freedom was too.

“Winkie?” Mr. Williams said, concern in his tone.

My presence of mind returned, along with my manners. “I-I don’t know wh-what to say, Mr. Williams,” I stammered as I stood up. “Except th-thank you, kind sir.”

“Godspeed to you, Winkie.”

With a nod and a smile and a confident step, I made my way across the room, but inside, I was reeling from this news.

I closed the door behind me, leaned against the wall knocking a brass sconce askew. I righted it and moved a few paces down the hall, sank into a chair, my legs too wobbly to hold me.

Tears welled in my eyes as I bunched and unbunched the fabric of my skirt, fretting over my future, a lifetime without my man. Then a thought came to me that sent thrill chills speeding down my spine.

Strike for freedom, I would urge Sweet Love Roscoe. Go to Canada. We’ll start a new life together, one founded in the sweet light of liberty.

Now was our chance. We could live in Canada where blacksmiths easily obtained work, we’d been told. I knew Roscoe would do as I bid. He’d been thinking about it for months, years even.

I’ll escape to Canada on the Underground Railroad, he would say, and you and Cassie can follow me when I get settled.

Every time he mentioned it, I would put my fingers across his lips. No, I always said, fear gripping me with an iron-clad hand. If the slave hunters were to catch Cassie and me... I would shiver, and then I would say, You know what they do if you’re caught. I can’t risk it--for little Cassie’s sake.

Now, though, with my freedom granted, Cassie and I could follow him to Canada legally and unafraid, and the thought comforted me like a coat in the cold.

But how would I keep body and soul together during the time Cassie and I waited on Sweet Love Roscoe to reach Canada?

My mind ran a hundred different ways. I could dress a lady. I could sew. I could take care of children. Would any of these skills help me find work once I left Laurel Ridge? I could cook. I could clean. Why, I would even scoop dung from the streets if that’s what it took.

But would I be able to find work? Jobs were scarce for free people, I knew. And where would Cassie and I live? And what would she do while I worked? Who would look out for her?

The ponderations pounded in my brain until my head ached with a ferocity I had never known. If I were a white lady, I would take to my bed with a vinegar compress on my brow. But I was not a white lady.

I was a former slave, now a free woman, alone in the world except for little Cassie, with no prospects of a job under my belt or a roof over my head...


1859, Charleston, South Carolina

Winkie Williams stood in front of her millinery shop, sweeping vigorously. Only two hours past cockcrow, the July sun was already high in the sky, and she stopped her work and swiped at her brow with a handkerchief.

Grasping the broom handle, she stood there staring at her strong brown hands, hands that had picked cotton as a child, dressed the master’s wife as a girl, and were now making hats for Charleston society ladies.

She looked across the pastel-colored buildings, drew in a breath of sharp briny air drifting in from the harbor. In the distance, she could hear horns blowing, flutes trilling, drums beating, and she knew that somewhere in downtown Charleston, band members were practicing for the Independence Day parade that would soon commence.

She could picture the parade scene as if it was before her now. She had watched the parade in the past, but not last year, and not today either. Today marked two years since she had gotten the awful news, and she doubted she would ever go to another Independence Day parade again. How could she celebrate when her Sweet Love Roscoe lay in a cold, dark grave?

She willed herself not to succumb to the grief that often overwhelmed her. “Think about the parade,” she mumbled as a drummer banged out a fast beat.

“At the parade,” she said to herself, “the streets will be lined with ladies and gents and boys and girls. Most will be dressed in red, white, and blue. Some of the ladies will be wearing hats I made with my own hands. They’re going to shake their noisemakers and toot their tin horns and sing their patriotic songs and wave their flags high in the air. They’re going to shout, ‘Let freedom ring.’They’re going to holler, ‘Liberty, sweet liberty.’ They’re going to say, ‘God bless America.’”

She continued sweeping, intent on getting every speck of dirt off her front stoop, something she did at least twice a day. “Yes, God has blessed you, America. You are free from the bondage of your mother country. And I am free from the bondage of slavery.”

She leaned down and picked dead petals off the flowers that were clumped in pots by the door. “But what good does that do?” she almost spat out. “My people will never be free men and free women, like me. They never know what it mean to have a kind master release them.”

From her pocket she withdrew a cleaning rag and rubbed at a streak on the window pane. Her musings brought to mind her dear departed mother, a slave brought over from Africa before the turn of the century, a woman whose existence had been one of unspeakable inhumanity, sorrow, and despair.

Burdens--that’s all there be to life, Mama said many a time. We be tasked hard.

“Mama, look--”

“Goodness, child,” Winkie shrieked, dropping the rag, “I be so deep in the land of emptiness, you plumb scared the pudding out of me.” She reached over and patted her six-year-old daughter where she stood in the open door, then lifted Cassie’s chin and smiled down at her. “I got a surprise waiting for you, Sugarbun.”

“We going to the parade?” Cassie's eyes lit up like the sidewalk firecrackers the white children set off every Independence Day. “Oh, Mama, thank you, thank you. Just what I wanted--”

“Now what you go bringing that up for?” Winkie snapped. “I done told you my answer about the parade. It’s no. N - O,” she spelled. “Madam is expecting three more bonnets from me in the morning. I got work waiting.”

She turned back to the window and rubbed the pane furiously. “Always, the work is there. There’s never no let up. I be tasked hard.”

Cassie grew as still as a statue, her eyes downcast.

Immediately, Winkie was ashamed of her outburst. She squatted and drew Cassie to her, squeezing her in a tight embrace, head to head, heart to heart. “Mama’s sorry, Cassie, my mama-look baby. My surprise is a sweet potato pie. I made it this morning. Your favorite. Mama don’t mean to be such a sore head all the livelong day. It’s just that I...well, I got troubles pressing on my mind--”

“Winkie,” a high-pitched female voice called from down the street. “I’m sorely in need of your services.”

Winkie stood up, her fingers locked with Cassie’s as she looked toward the lady, her girlhood friend, the master’s daughter who had taught her how to read. Miss Willie was coming pell mell down the street, her blond ringlets bouncing with every step, her bell-shaped skirts swishing and swaying with every movement.

“Why, do tell,” Winkie said, when Miss Willie drew near, forcing cheerfulness into her voice. “What brings you here on Independence Day? Shouldn’t you be heading to town for the festivities?”

“I’m on way,” Miss Willie huffed out. “But I had an item of utmost importance to attend to.” She swooped down and tickled Cassie on the side of the neck, and Cassie giggled in delight. “Look what I’ve brought you, Cassie dear.” From her large reticule she pulled out a charming doll dressed in an exquisite red, white, and blue silk gown.

Cassie hugged the doll to her. “Thank you, Miss Willie. Oh, thank you. This be better than any old parade,” she said softly as she turned and headed inside.

“She’s a quiet child,” Miss Willie said.

“Yes, ma’am. Now, what can I do for you today?” Winkie looked to her left, then to her right. It wouldn’t be fitten for a fine lady like Miss Willie to be seen standing in the alleyway conversing with the likes of her. “Come on in. Whatever it is you need, we be seeing to it right away.”

Inside the little shop that wasn’t really a shop only a work room with a curtained-off sleeping area, Winkie offered Miss Willie a chair, then put the broom away.

“Willie and Winkie.” Miss Willie settled back in the chair and smoothed her ruffle-flounced, white brocade gown. “We were a lively duo growing up, weren’t we?”

“That we was.”

“Had ourselves some escapades, didn’t we?”

“That we did.” Winkie sat down in the other chair, leaned her elbow on the table, lightly drummed her fingers. Miss Willie’s family, the Williamses, had come from the North and purchased Laurel Ridge when both girls were about thirteen.

From the moment they’d met, they’d become fast friends. Miss Willie--Wilhemina was her given name but everyone called her Miss Willie--had married at seventeen. That same day, while the white folks’ wedding festivities were going on up at the big house, Winkie and her Sweet Love Roscoe were getting married, too, down at the quarters. Jumping the broom, was what the people called it.

Winkie fiddled with the folds of fabric stacked neatly on the table. Growing up, she and Miss Willie had shared many commonalties. Their flair for fashion. Their interest in reading--after Miss Willie taught her how. Even the similarity of their names. Willie and Winkie. Perhaps those were the things that had bonded them together so strongly.

But now, there was one profound difference between them. Miss Willie had a husband and no child. Winkie had a child and no husband. She had no husband because her Sweet Love Roscoe had died fleeing the tyranny of a cruel master. Halfway to Canada, the slave hunters had captured him, dragged him back, and in the process, he had lost his life.

And it was all because of her. She had urged him to escape.

Oh, Roscoe. She rubbed her temple where it throbbed.

“I came by this morning to see if you’d make a few of these rosettes you made for my bonnet--” Miss Willie touched the red, white, and blue fabric flowers on each side of her hat “--and sew them onto my sash.” She fingered the red silk sash at her waist. “I thought a touch of red, white, and blue somewhere on my gown would look even more patriotic.”

“Sure thing, Miss Willie.” Winkie stood and in one quick movement gathered her sewing basket and some swatches of red, white, and blue silk fabric from a shelf overhead. Then she sat back down. “Won’t take me no time.”

“I knew that. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have troubled you.”

“No trouble at all.” She could spend a lifetime helping Miss Willie, yet it would never repay her for her kindness. A few years after Miss Willie had married and moved to a plantation in Georgia, her father decided to sell Laurel Ridge and move back to the North. It was then that Miss Willie convinced him to free his slaves.

It was then that Winkie had become a free woman.

Winkie threaded her needle, stuck it in a pin cushion, cut narrow strips of red, white, and blue silk skillfully, just as her milliner patron had taught her. She would be indebted to Miss Willie for life.

It was Miss Willie who had traveled to Charleston and secured Winkie's apprenticeship with the grand milliner, Madam Henderson.

It was Miss Willie who had given Winkie the guidance to set up her own shop.

It was Miss Willie who was responsible for Winkie’s present life--living as a free woman and productive citizen on a busy street in Charleston, even if it was a back alley. Though the ladies of Charleston had turned up their snooty noses at her back-alley shop--causing Madam Henderson to agree to front for Winkie for a fee and no credit for Winkie's hatmaking--still, the small profits kept body and soul together for her and Cassie, and she would be eternally grateful to Miss Willie.

As long as Winkie lived, she could never do enough for the kind and gracious Miss Willie. Never. Why, there was no guile to be found in the blue-eyed, blond-haired belle, only sweetness down to the bone.

“I’ve come to ask a second favor of you, Winkie.” Miss Willie’s sparkling blue eyes were sober now.


“Come to the parade.”

“I couldn’t do that.” Winkie silently reprimanded herself. Hadn’t she just been thinking she’d do anything for Miss Willie? Here she was, refusing her request. But she couldn’t help it.

“It’s time.”

“That’s something I need more of.” Winkie tried to hide the anger in her voice, thinking she’d had far too much time to brood this morning. “I have three bonnets yet to trim.”

“It’s time, I repeat. I think you know what I mean.”

Winkie pushed the needle into a bunching of fabric, then deftly pulled it out. In the fabric, out the fabric, in the fabric, out the fabric.

“It’s been two years since...” Miss Willie’s voice trailed off. “There’s someone I’d like to introduce you to after the parade.”

The first rosette completed, Winkie bit off the thread, grinding her teeth more than necessary, and rethreaded the needle. A moment ago, she’d been thinking Miss Willie had no guile in her? Now, she saw a hint of pretense. Why, Miss Willie didn’t come to the shop to have rosettes made. She came to make a match—

Winkie couldn’t even finish the thought. She pushed the needle into the fabric so hard, it punctured her finger and drew blood. She hadn’t done that since her apprenticeship. She wrapped her finger with a piece of cloth, stuck a thimble on it, kept sewing.

“We’re going to the parade with our friends, the Fletchers,” Miss Willie said. “It’s their carpenter I want you to meet. Mr. Fletcher says there’s no finer man of all his people. This man I’m talking about--his name is Joseph Moore--is diligent and hard working, just like you, Winkie.”

Winkie never said a word while she completed the second rosette. She just sat there, pulling the needle in and out, biting off the thread, rethreading the needle as Miss Willie prattled on about the man she wanted her to meet, the carpenter owned by the Fletchers.

“Dolly Fletcher says the talk is,” Miss Willie continued, “that Joseph hasn’t found the right girl to jump the broom with. You’d be the perfect girl.”

“Jump the broom?” Memories seared her mind, and she felt as though she’d been burned by an ember from the cooking fire.

“I know it’s hard for you--”

“You don’t know no such of a thing.” For the third time this morning, Winkie felt remorseful for her snappiness. Silently she reprimanded herself. First, Cassie had gotten the brunt of her malcontent. Then, Miss Willie. Now, Miss Willie again. Still, she couldn’t help humming—loudly. Nobody knows the trouble I seen.

“Mama, look,” Cassie exclaimed as she skipped from behind the curtain. “Sheena--” she held out her doll as she ran to Winkie “--her eyes opens and closes. I never held no doll that’s eyes opens and closes. Oh, Mama, look.”

“Come here, my mama-look baby.” Winkie set aside her sewing, swooped Cassie onto her lap, planted a kiss on each eyelid as Cassie convulsed in giggles.

All the things Winkie had thought about this morning, all the fanciful things Miss Willie was saying now--none of them mattered. Only Cassie mattered. Cassie was her reason for being. And living.

“Show Mama them eyes that opens and closes.” Winkie kissed Cassie’s eyelids again.

“For her.” Miss Willie tipped her head in Cassie’s direction, looking intently at Winkie. “If for no other reason, go to the parade for her. She’s a child. She needs diversion every now and then. I always said Independence Day is more fun than Christmas.”

Winkie fiddled with the doll’s eyelids. Perhaps Miss Willie was right. Cassie rarely had the opportunity for pleasure.

“After the parade,” Miss Willie said, “the Fletchers are giving a pig roast in our honor--for moving back to South Carolina.” She tapped on her hat brim. “I’m so happy you’ll be making all my bonnets from now on.”

Winkie sat there, contemplating what Miss Willie was saying, glad Miss Willie would be living nearby. That gave her a comfort.

“That’s where I wish to introduce you to Joseph Moore--at the Fletchers’ pig roast. Dolly Fletcher knows of my desire, and out of courtesy to me, she’s extended an invitation to you, to eat with their people. There’ll be children Cassie’s age, and she’ll enjoy their games and child play. And the food is going to be simply scrumptious. The Fletcher people have been roasting the pigs all night long. Dolly says their people make the best roast pork in all of South Carolina. She vows and declares it’s the wood they cook them over. I believe she said it’s--”

“Oak wood.” Winkie absently straightened the doll’s hair that didn’t need straightening. “Oak wood bring out the flavor of pork like no other.”

“And they make a special sauce--”

“Carolina gold, I’d hanker.” She untied the ribbon on the doll’s bonnet, then retied it, laboriously making the loops as small as possible so they’d be in correct proportion to the doll’s chin. “Carolina gold be better than Carolina red by a mile.”

“Won’t you please come to the parade? If you won’t do it for yourself, and you won’t do it for Cassie, do it for me. Please? Help celebrate mine and Mr. Richard’s move back to Charleston.”


A half hour later, Winkie and Cassie were headed to the parade, dressed in their best gowns with matching feather-trimmed bonnets on their heads, a sweet potato pie in a basket on Winkie’s arm. As they walked along, they trailed Miss Willie by a good half a block, as was proper.

“I wonder about...Mr. Joseph Moore...isn’t that what Miss Willie called him?” Winkie said under her breath, knowing Cassie was paying her no mind.

“There won’t be no mama-looks from Cassie right now,” Winkie whispered. Cassie was holding Sheena--her first store-bought doll--and as the tyke walked along, she was opening and closing the open-and-close eyes. “I wonder what Mr. Joseph Moore’s countenance be like,” Winkie said softly.

She shifted the basket to her other arm and caught a whiff of the sweet potato pie. “Miss Willie is sweetness down to the bone. That, she is.” She breathed in deeply of the pleasant-smelling scent. “I be going to the Independence Day parade and the picnic afterwards for Cassie’s sake,” she whispered. “And for Miss Willie’s sake.”

Deep down though, she was loathe to admit that she was really going to the parade to meet Mr. Joseph Moore. “I wonder if Mr. Joseph Moore be dark?” she mused aloud. “Or light? I wonder if he have big eyes or small? I wonder if he be tall, like me? Or short? He be smart, for sure. Double-dose smart. Miss Willie say he be so skilled at carpentering, the carpentry shop in town use his services.”

Into her mind came a vision of a tall, handsome man bent over a work bench, his muscles glistening in the sunlight. Would he have understanding eyes and a compassionate soul? Perhaps this Mr. Joseph Moore would take a shine to little Cassie. That would most assuredly cause her to do a joy jig.

Then a second vision appeared, gut-wrenchingly so, of another tall, handsome man, this time bent over a blacksmith’s fire, his muscles glistening in the sunlight. This man had understanding eyes and a compassionate soul, and he had loved Cassie with every sinew of his soul.

She drew in a sharp breath at the thought of Sweet Love Roscoe, her husband who died fleeing slavery--a word so abhorrent, she had a hard time letting it float through her mind.

With brooding ponderations gnawing at her insides, she hurried on down the street.


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