Born on November 11, 1914 in New York City, New York, Howard Melvin Fast was an American writer who typically wrote on history and politics. Not only did Fast publish books under his given name, he also used the pen names ‘E. V. Cunningham’ and ‘Walter Ericson. ’ Fast married for the first time in 1937 to Bette Cohen whom he had two children with, Jonathan and Rachel. After Bette’s death in 1994, Fast married a second time in 1999 to Mercedes O’Connor. Fast wrote a variety of works including works of nonfiction, autobiographies, novels, plays, short stories, essays and articles.
In 1950 Fast was sentenced to prison for three months for contempt of Congress. Possibly Fast’s most successful novel, Spartacus, was written partly during Fast’s three month sentence in prison. When he was released, he was blacklisted by publishing houses which forced him to have to self-publish his book. By having to do this, he established the Blue Heron Press which allowed to him to not only publish under his own, given name, but as well as the pen names he chose for himself.
Fast recently passed on March 12, 2003 in Greenwich, Connecticut at age 88. (wikipedia)
Freedom Road takes place in South Carolina on a plantation called Carwell’s plantation. The main character, a leader among his people, is named Gideon Jackson. Gideon has a wife, Rachel, along with two sons and a daughter: Marcus, Jeff, and Jenny. The book begins with Gideon and a group of men returning to the plantation from the voting. It being 1867, this year was the first time in history that men of color had been allowed to vote. With many color folks being illiterate, most everyone had not a clue what voting actually meant. The men from the Carwell plantation had participated in an event that they had no knowledge of.
Gideon, an ignorant man, was the one to explain to the Carwell plantation population about what had taken place. Once he had explained the general notion of voting, everyone dissolved into their own groups and discussed their adventures. Gideon explained to his wife the he had been elected delegate. While officially the delegates had not yet been chosen, Brother Peter was certain that Gideon would be chosen to represent the people from the Carwell-Sinkerton district, but Gideon felt uncomfortable with the idea. Brother Peter discussed with Gideon what would and needed to take place as well as what was expected of Gideon.
After much frustration and debate, Brother Peter and Gideon separated and carried about their own business. Weeks passed and a messenger, or mailman, came to the plantation to deliver a letter to Gideon. The letter contained all the necessary credentials for Gideon’s appointment to be a delegate for his district. In a few days time, he would begin his travels to Charleston, South Carolina where all of the elected delegates would meet for the first time. Along the way, Gideon meets an old, black man named James Allenby who has three kids that he has adopted over the years. Mr.
Allenby is a well-educated man who is a very good and patient teacher. Gideon persuades Mr. Allenby to take his children and himself to the Carwell plantation where he can begin to educate all of the people living on the plantation. Gideon continues to Charleston where he would come to stay at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Carter for two dollars a week. The Carter’s come to look at Gideon as a son. While in Charleston, Gideon would become a prominent speaker, speaking in favor of education for everyone, blacks and whites alike. According to Gideon, an uneducated man is no better than a slave, but once a man is educated he can no longer be a slave.
Gideon would continually argue in favor of education for everyone until it was made law. When Gideon returns home, he is determined to buy property. He believes that to have a future in South Carolina, you have to own property. He asks white folk living around the Carwell plantation to partner with him to purchase a large quantity of land that will equally be divided among them all. Most of the whites agree. During the time that Gideon is home, he sends his oldest song, Jeff, to a medical school located north of South Carolina. Jeff is sad to leave his love Ellen, the blind daughter of Mr.
Allenby, but excited to be able to further his knowledge in an area where he will be able to help his community. Eventually Gideon returns to Charleston where his people elect him to Congress. While Gideon is away, his son Jeff returns having finished medical school in Scotland. When Jeff returns, he acts as the doctor of the Carwell plantation and finally gets to marry his sweetheart, Ellen. When the Tilden-Hayes Compromise of 1876 is passed, federal troops are withdrawn and Stephen Holm, who does not care for Gideon, puts the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) into action. Holm is determined to put the black people back where the came from.
Gideon tries to influence President Grant to keep the federal troops occupied for another ten years but fails to do so. Gideon forms an army to stand again the KKK and for a while it looks like there is a chance. Ultimately, Gideon and all those who supported him and his efforts were done away with. While serving as a delegate in Charleston, Gideon would come to meet other delegates. Francis L. Cardozo being the one most influential to Gideon. Cardozo would give Gideon the first books that Gideon would use to begin to improve his literacy skills. Gideon Jackson is the main character in Freedom Road.
He is a well-built, muscular, black man that lives on the Carwell Plantation. He is a leader among the men, women, and children that live in his area and has also begun to emerge as a leader in the Convention. In the beginning, Gideon felt as though he should not have been elected delegate of his district, but as time passes he becomes more capable and accepting. Because of his once being a slave, Gideon is a humble man but can also be prideful at times. Gideon is an ignorant man but is determined to improve his literacy skills. Brother Peter is somewhat a mentor of Gideons. He acts as an elder of the Carwell population.
He is very smart and is capable of persuading Gideon to lead his people to a better future. Brother Peter is a God-fearing, religious man who tries to always look at things from God’s perspective. He is Gideon’s accountability partner of a sort. When Gideon comes home from the Convention the first time, Brother Peter confronts Gideon about what he has become and implies that it needs to be fixed. He is a level headed character in Freedom Road that tries to keep Gideon on the straight and narrow. Francis L. Cardozo is the man responsible for introducing Gideon to many of the other delegates at the Convention.
He is a light skinned black man that was born free. He is a Jew which accounts for his uppity attitude. He is also an abolitionist who is proud to be black. Cardozo helps Gideon realize the importance of the Convention and also supplies him with some of the tools (books) necessary for Gideon to better communicate himself among the aristocrats. Cardozo is also responsible for introducing Gideon to members of the Convention that put Gideon into positions he wishes that he wasn’t in. A main theme in Freedom Road is that education is possibly one of the most valuable characteristics that some people may have.
Many people, a lot of young people, take education for granted, but without it, all we would be able to do is physical labor. At some point though, there are no more opportunities for labor jobs, and something else will have to be done. Gideon was right when he stated that an uneducated man is no better than a slave. There is nothing more than an uneducated man can do, and Gideon is an example of this. Before Gideon was elected a delegate, he was barely literate, could barely write his own name and could only read maybe a hundred words.
But since Gideon went to the convention, he taught himself to speak more properly, write more legibly, and to read more clearly. Now he is able to communicate himself more effectively which allows all the delegates to see how capable educated, colored men truly are. I believe that this is a book that we should have been made to read during high school United States history. It has helped me to better understand the struggle that black men had when they begun to take part in establishing a constitution for the South Carolina government.
I have also realized how close-minded people once were when they based a lot of society on skin color. It is also an eye opener to how much some people resent the possibility of change. While there are still instances today where color does become an issue, it has improved since the time period talked about in Freedom Road. I can appreciate the struggles that I can only hear about a little bit more when an author such as Fast takes the time to create a story that displays the hardships endured by a simple, black man that was elected to Convention to establish a constitution for the state of South Carolina.
Cite this Howard Melvin Fast
Howard Melvin Fast. (2017, Jan 22). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/howard-melvin-fast/