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'Midnight Without A Moon' Fictionalizes Civil Rights Moment Through Eyes Of A Teen


One of the most tragic moments in civil rights history unfolds through the eyes of a 13-year-old girl in Linda Williams Jackson's new young adult novel. Jackson weaves together two stories, a historical one about the murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till and a fictional one about Rose Lee Carter, a sharecropper's granddaughter struggling to make sense of life under Jim Crow laws in the 1950s. Linda Williams Jackson joins me now to talk about her new book "Midnight Without A Moon." Thank you so much for being with us.

LINDA WILLIAMS JACKSON: Thank you for inviting me.

CHANG: So why did you choose to center this story on the murder of Emmett Till? Why did you want to revisit that particular piece of history?

JACKSON: Initially, I wanted to write a story about my own family's life in the Mississippi Delta. And some years ago, maybe about 10 or 11 years ago, my mother mentioned Emmett Till. And she was in her 70s then. She had never mentioned Emmett Till before. And she actually didn't even say his name. I think there might've been something on the news about him, but for the first time, it just really struck me that, wow, this happened right here. And my mom was just a young woman then, and I wanted to explore for myself what it might have felt like for them to have this happen so close to home.

CHANG: So where do the two stories of Emmett Till and Rose Lee Carter intersect in this book?

JACKSON: Papa, who is the grandfather of Rose Lee Carter in the book, is a sharecropper in a fictional town called Stillwater, Miss., which is located in Leflore County which is also the location of Money, Miss., where Mose Wright, the great uncle of Emmett Till was a tenant farmer. So to combine the two stories, I had Papa being an old friend of Mose Wright.

CHANG: So how does Rose react to the murder of a boy who's about her same age in a nearby community? How does she process that?

JACKSON: She thinks about her own brother so - and the killing of Emmett Till - her emotions run high because this could have been my brother or this could have been my best friend, Hallelujah Jenkins, especially seeing that Emmett Till is accused of whistling at a white woman and her best friend, Hallelujah Jenkins, is kind of girl crazy. So, you know, Rose is thinking this could have been Hallelujah.

CHANG: So you had mentioned that your mom had not ever talked about Emmett Till until way later in life. Did your family back then ever want to play a role in the Civil Rights movement?

JACKSON: I doubt it. And that was another reason why I wanted to write the book. I wanted to explore why they weren't concerned. I grew up knowing nothing about the NAACP or I've heard of Martin Luther King, didn't know a whole lot about him. And, frankly, I was kind of embarrassed as an adult when I realized how little I knew about the Civil Rights movement. That's why I have Rose curious to learn about the NAACP and the upcoming Civil Rights movement because I didn't have that opportunity.

CHANG: And what's interesting is you have her surrounded by characters who don't want to rock the boat. For example, Ma Pearl - she doesn't want Rose to learn about the NAACP because she didn't want her relatives to be demanding for progress and change. What was Ma Pearl supposed to represent in this story?

JACKSON: She's supposed to represent those people who fear the upcoming Civil Rights movement, those African-Americans who were like my family who were afraid of things changing. I remember just probably about 15 years ago visiting my aunt in Memphis - there was my mom, my aunt and another aunt. And they were talking about how much the white people loved Papa, who was my grandfather, how they, you know, didn't want him buried at the church cemetery. They didn't think that was good enough.

And it got me into thinking why did they love him? Did they love him because he was such a good man or did they love him because he was so complacent and because he stayed in his place and because he didn't make trouble? I don't know the answer to that, but it was something that I wanted to explore as well. So Ma Pearl would represent that group of people who were afraid to see change because if - change meant a fight, and they didn't want that fight.

CHANG: Part of the backdrop in this book is what's known as the Great Migration North. Many African-Americans wanted to flee to the North in search of better jobs, a better life. Rose herself is tempted. She wants a brighter future. Explain how come Rose is so incredibly conflicted about this decision whether to go up North or remain in Mississippi.

JACKSON: She doesn't want to leave Papa. She doesn't want to leave her brother Fred Lee because he's already been abandoned enough. There's a sequel coming out in 2018, and you will find that there is some fear also in roles of starting new. The sequel explains a little bit more why she chooses to stay.

CHANG: Well, I can't wait for the sequel.

JACKSON: Thank you.

CHANG: Linda Williams Jackson - her book is called "Midnight Without A Moon." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.