Gulf Coast writer pens novel about slave soldiers

By LINDSAY O’QUIN
04/06/04

GAUTIER — Tommie Thompson has a passion for Southern history — controversial as it may be — and he’s not afraid to write about it.

Thompson, secretary of Gulf Coast Writers Association in Gulfport, found out a week ago today that his first book, "A Taste of Freedom: A Story of the Forgotten Slaves of the Civil War," will be published by AuthorHouse, a print-on-demand publishing company.

"Freedom" is set at the dawn of the Civil War, when Southern slaves were forced to make a monumental decision. The book chronicles the life of Bubba, a well-treated slave, and his master, Bill, who fought for the South and for what they believed to be a just cause.

The author is well aware of the controversy the book will stir. The book’s dedication delves into why the slaves would chose to fight for the Confederacy, rather than seek the instant freedom that the North promised.

"I wrote the book without being judgmental. Contrary to popular belief, some slaves were treated well by their masters. That’s just a given. And that’s not saying that slavery was right in any sense of the word, don’t get me wrong," Thompson explained. "But there’s a reason why they felt connected to the land and their masters and to the particular plantation they called home."

After visiting battlefields and cemeteries throughout Mississippi and Tennessee, Thompson was moved to write a story about these unsung heroes.

"It began to dawn on me that nothing had ever been done specifically on black slaves who fought for the Confederacy. I felt an overwhelming compassion for these men that had not been acknowledged," Thompson said. "It began to weigh on my mind. So I said, well, why not write a story about these men."

He researched the topic heavily at the library and on the Internet and found that people’s misconceptions about slavery during the Civil War were based more on hearsay than fact.

Thompson doesn’t shy away from the related Confederate flag controversy, either.

"I feel that people have a right to celebrate and honor their history and their past, regardless of whether I agree with it or not," he said.

Thompson recognizes that some people who display Confederate flags are making racist statements, but said most he has encountered don’t have cruel intentions.

"I have friends that have rebel flags on their trucks, and they’re really great people. It’s just like if I put an African-American flag in my front yard, it doesn’t mean that I hate white people," Thompson pointed out. "It just means I’m celebrating my heritage."

Thompson’s interest in Southern culture developed in 1982, when he moved from Baltimore, Md., to Jackson County, Miss. He worked as an addiction treatment specialist at Singing River Mental Health until his retirement in 2002. He lives in Gautier and works in the deli department at Wal-Mart in Ocean Springs.

"When I moved to the South, I was captured by the history that’s definitely here, not only about slavery but all aspects of it," he said. "It’s just a passion that I have for history."

Thompson said he always has had a passion for writing, but he never pursued it until a year before his retirement. After perusing the Internet for an organization, he joined the GCWA "right here on the Coast."

"When I first started writing, I realized I needed to be involved in an organization that consisted of authors and writers in order to learn more about writing and to gain some knowledge and techniques," he said. "That was one of the best things I’ve done because they have encouraged me along the way and have been quite supportive in my effort to write this book."

Thompson is currently GCWA’s secretary and a featured writer for the organization’s publication, The Magnolia Quarterly. He writes short stories and articles "just dealing with life in general." One of his stories was on exhibit at the Walter Anderson Museum of Art in Ocean Springs.

Victoria Olsen, vice president of GCWA, took photographs of Thompson dressed in Confederate attire for the book’s cover. She said the association allowed him to network with other authors, who understand the process of publishing a book, and introduced him to Jeanette Jennis, a "nitpicky" editor from Pennsylvania with a connection to the Gulf Coast.

"Tommie is a perfect example of how the organization should work," she said. "Several people in the organization are behind him and are helping him promote his book. I think it’s been a great experience for him as a first-time author."

Olsen said the mission of the GCWA is "really to encourage and inspire writers and to provide networking, a central place where people who have never written can socialize with published authors. It’s just a lot of communication."

Thompson said, "It is only through forgiveness and facing the truth about our past that will allow us to heal our self-inflicted wounds and walk together toward true freedom."

Visit the Gulf Coast Writers Association Web site at www.gcwriters.org to order a copy of "The Taste of Freedom" for $14.95. The book also will be available in bookstores and on authorhouse.com soon.

Feature reporter Lindsay O’Quin can be reached at (228) 934-1495 or loquin@themississippipress.com.

Originally published at http://www.gulflive.com/news/mississippipress/index.ssf?/base/news/1081246561184360.xml.