These last two weeks I had the pleasure of being with two special authors who wrote very different books.
One was brilliant and beautiful award-winning NY1 news anchor, author and sought-after speaker Cheryl Wills who writes children’s books about her ancestor who was a slave who bravely fought for his freedom as a soldier in the Civil War. The other was Blanche Wiesen Cook, who writes about my hero Eleanor Roosevelt. Both write engaging books in different ways.
Cheryl discovered her heritage in her biggest “scoop” and has made it her mission to write about her great-great-great-grandfather in a voice meant for elementary and middle school students.
I read “The Emancipation of Grandpa Sandy Wills” to my grandchildren and they were fascinated by the story. So was PBS, which will be going down with her to Tennessee, where she discovered her ancestor’s unmarked grave. Now she will tell her tale to the world!
Ironically, periwinkle plants, which are perennials, were used by the slaves to mark spots where no tombstone could be placed. Knowing which plantation he worked on, Cheryl found it is still an operating “plantation” with the descendants of the slave owners still on the land.
Although she shared with me that they don’t want to be involved in the PBS filming, they are not being obstructionist.
I believe that the history of slavery is one that must be told and never forgotten, and Cheryl’s voice is a precious one.
Armed with the historical records of the National Archives in Washington, D.C., she has traced her family’s roots and given us a moving, powerful, emotion-packed memoir.
We met for dinner last week on the Nautical Mile in Freeport, a town on the rise thanks to its proactive mayor Robert Kennedy.
We dined at the River House Grille, where they offered my favorite seasonal steamers (two for the price of one) and then shared a two-pound lobster, clams and oysters, a diner’s delight.
We were sitting outside until the drizzly rain forced us inside, and the friendly, efficient waiters made the move seamless.
Cheryl, who lives in Freeport, invited me to her home and to meet her husband, a principal in Valley Stream in the Stearns Park area of the town. It was another discovery for me because every street there looks like the gracious, wide streets of Garden City and Addisleigh Park in St. Albans.
I love finding new enclaves and I laughed when Cheryl said Eddie Murphy grew up in Roosevelt, the town next door, and would ride his bicycle through Stearns Park as a kid dreaming of owning a home there. In fact, as soon as he had his first success, he did buy a home in this special section of town.
He has since moved out but sadly never looked back.
Then, through my friend Assemblywoman Rebecca Seawright, I had the pleasure of meeting her friend, renowned writer and John Jay College and Graduate Center Professor Blanche Wiesen Cook. She has written three volumes following my hero Eleanor Roosevelt’s life from 1884 to her death in 1962. The most recent one covers 1939-1962, the war years and after.
Ms. Cook has dedicated her book to “all those activists and agitators who resist tyranny, challenge authority, fight for peace, freedom and Human Rights — as we continue our journey for One World: no borders, no boundaries, no walls.”
Ironic how our world is so upside-down now from the dreams and life’s work of Eleanor Roosevelt. Interestingly, Maureen Dowd, a writer I respect, said, “Eleanor was a master on how to use the press to shape public opinion.” Life keeps repeating itself!
Another friend, Pauli Libsohn, shared her mom’s latest volume of poems and the books she edited based on what she found locked away in her mom’s drawer.
As Pauli recalled, “I had to painstakingly go through my parents’ 1,800 books and I was amazed at what I found between the binders. My parents’ life was one of great romance and I think her last poems were her therapy to cope with his loss.”
The new books titled “Silhouettes” and “Songs of You” compiled by Pauli are filled with gems. Here’s one of my favorites that made my heart swell, “Forever” —
Don’t ask why
Don’t ask how