It is remarkable that anyone could have lived to the unbelievable age of one hundred and eighteen. More so when you consider how Tippy Pendarvis, principal character of Emerson Watkins’ first novel, A Story of a Forgotten Hero-Turning Back The Pages Of Time, endured the many tragedies that beset him.
Watkins’ well-crafted work of fiction focuses on an African American, who was born five years after the Civil War. At the age of eighteen, Tippy is forced to leave his family, after being maliciously chased out of town by the Ku Klux Klan.
Eventually, he finds his way to Arizona, where he joins the famous Buffalo Soldiers. A regiment of African-Americans created by Congress in 1866 that was the 9th and 10th Cavalries. The Cheyenne and Comanche had nicknamed them Buffalo Soldiers, and until the latter part of the 19th century they constituted about twenty percent of all cavalry forces on the American frontier.
When Tippy leaves the cavalry he is confronted with ugly racism, and as a result, he is unable to find employment. Left with little choice, he succumbs to a life of crime.
Although successful in accumulating a certain amount of wealth, he nonetheless experiences several tragedies-the first being the loss of his daughter Flossie, followed by the apparent suicide of his first wife Lizzy-Mae.
After the death of his wife, his life of crime catches up with him and he is incarcerated for thirteen months. Upon his release he undergoes a complete metamorphosis. He decides that with the money he had hidden away prior to his incarceration, he would create a foundation for the purpose of financially aiding African Americans to attend college.
He subsequently remarries, only to face the unexpected and shocking illness, and eventual death of his second wife, Mannie.
Although initially devastated, Tippy still manages to move on with his life, and eventually remarries for a third time.
Once again, however, tragedy enters his life with the loss of his two sons, Doug, during the Second World War, and Grail, who had participated in the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s. The latter was senselessly murdered at the hands of racist lawmen.
Emerson Watkins displays an exceptional talent for story telling, and on the whole the novel is a convincing narrative that manages to blend the enormous injustices faced by African Americans with man’s ability to reach for that innate inner strength.
The poet Ralph Waldo Emerson best described a hero as being: “a mind of such balance that no disturbances can shake his will, but pleasantly, and, as it were, merrily, he advances to his own music, alike in frightful alarms and in the tipsy mirth of universal dissoluteness.” I guess this is what Tippy Pendarvis was all about.
INTERVIEW WITH EMERSON WATKINS