Black History: Drama of the American Story

Sharing the rich and dramatic history that I discovered while researching my novel, Provenance.

by Joanna Kosinsky
by Joanna Kosinsky

One of the joys of writing fiction is that you can create a world where the real and the imagined help you tell your story. For my novel, Provenance, I created a cast of fictional characters who came alive in the pages of my book and, to enhance their story, I cast real people in history to play roles in my characters’ lives. Provenance’s characters live in Richmond, Paris and New York. They travel to Florence, London and the Caribbean. Their lives are impacted by historic events like World War II, adding depth and context to the world I created for them.

This approach to writing fiction required me to do a significant amount of historical  research about the early 20th century, the period in which Provenance is set, and the effect America’s most prominent social forces—race, class and gender—had on my real and imagined characters. I uncovered facts that were a revelation, things I knew of  but really knew little about.  I was introduced to personalities and places that were excluded, ignored or lost in the American history I was taught in school. Through my research I found some of that missing history, primarily African-American history, and specifically the rich history of self-determination. At a time when people of color had few opportunities to succeed, many found astounding ways to excel.

Black History is American History, though in 1976, February was designated Black or African-American History Month. On its website, The Library of Congress describes the celebration of African-American History Month “as a time to recognize the importance of Black history in the drama of the American story.” African-American history is more than the drama of slavery and the civil rights era so, this is a great time to fill in some of our story’s missing information—all of it integral to America’s colorful provenance.

Every Tuesday and Thursday throughout the month of February, on this blog, I’ll share some of the treasures that I uncovered while researching Provenance.

I hope you’ll return here to read about people like Eugene Jacques Bullard, Maggie Lena Walker and Belle da Costa Greene who are not well-known but certainly renowned. I’ll tell you about places like Jackson Ward, Evergreen Cemetery and Harlem in Montmartre and, events like the more than 200,000 African-Americans who migrated to Europe before World War I.

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I hope you’ll read, comment and share throughout the month!

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