Author: Ben A. Sharpton

Publisher: Novel Voices Press Inc

ISBN: 978-0-9854464-4-4

In the form of narrative history Ben A. Sharpton with his 7 Sanctuaries looks back over the defining moments of the 1960s- an era, as he states in the Preface, that was fuelled by idealism of the youth crusading for peace, prosperity, and purpose, challenging old norms and conventional wisdom. Although we often believe it only affected large cities as New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, it nonetheless had a profound effect on all America including unfamiliar rural towns that likewise experienced the growing pains of the decade. It is the decade when President Kennedy was elected and assassinated, the Freedom Riders with white civil rights activists are testing federal laws that granted equal rights to blacks. Nature is also making itself heard in the form of hurricane Donna- a storm that lasted for nine days, causing immense destruction and loss of life.

The old secure framework of morality, authority, and discipline disintegrated as people would seek assuagement in safe havens or sanctuaries for themselves and their loved ones from the transformations around them. According to Sharpton: “Some of these sanctuaries have what it takes to stand the test of time. Other inevitably fail.”

The first few pages of the novel firmly ensconces the reader in the early 1960s world with the Franklin family, Katie, husband Ray and her two sons Robby and Tim who live in Springlake, Florida. Their lives resemble the popular television sitcoms of the era where everything on the surface seems hunky dory until racial tension between blacks and whites begin to intensify. The enduring prejudices and resentment are boiling away just beneath the surface of small-town life.

Ray is employed in the town's popular hardware store, where blacks use the back door to be served and pay for their purchases. According to the store's owner, “they seemed to like it that way since we dealt with them on a more personal level and they wouldn't be embarrassed if they couldn't read or do math.” On the other hand, the federal government was enacting some legislation that forced businesses to permit blacks into public places. However, for some of the inhabitants of Springlake this was asking too much, after all, as the owner of a car dealership rationalizes, “we gave them their own separate restrooms, so what more could they want?” Entrenched racist attitudes are hardened, guns and rifles are easily purchased, and there is a general feeling among many whites that “black people are causing so much trouble all over the country”-all of which is a perfect recipe for disaster in the form of riots which do eventually transpire.

Sharpton employing brutal realism effectively unveils fragments of the lives of the inhabitants of Springlake as he explores their sanctuaries concerning business, nature, school, the church, the gym, and the world and the rest of it. A field that once represented peace, calm and hope is now one of the the staging grounds of the Ku Klux Klan in their spread of hatred. The church is undergoing profound changes and no longer is timeless, eternal and unmoved by history, although it does continue to serve the needy as best it could. The school's gym, which used to be considered inviting and safe is likewise not immune from change.

What really stands out in this well-paced novel is the authenticity of Sharpton's voice as he meticulously draws portraits of the tumultuous world he grew up in. His characters are not wooden cartoon small-town folks without flesh and blood-they are alive and kicking reflecting an era that was undergoing vast change with profound ramifications. 

Follow Here To Read Norm's Interview With Ben A. Sharpton

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