By Janice Malone
MONTGOMERY, AL — Are African Americans we still shackled? That is the central question presented in the book “Shackled Again?” By author Tony A. Watkins. In his debut book, Mr. Watkins extensively examines the ongoing, deeply rooted side affects that institutionalized racism continues to have in this country among African Americans, from the Civil War to the Civil Rights era, all the way up to the current calendar year of 2018.
“Shackled Again?” features a collection of stories, historic documents, photos, important events and personal accounts of well-known names of the Civil Rights Movement. Names such as General Colin Powell, Dr. Andrew Young, the late Dick Gregory and others. But the book also contains personal accounts and recollections with many unsung heroes from the Civil Rights era that were not household names such as: Rev. Reese who helped Dr. King across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, AL, JoAnne Bland who was running for her life from horses, while still a child, across the same bridge, along with in-depth conversations of several people who actually worked with Ms. Fannie Lou Hamer, Civil Rights Activist and co-founder of the Freedom Democratic Party. “I have personally interviewed over 80 oral testimonies, and over 180 stories,” author Watkins tells the Tribune from his home in the Montgomery, AL area. Those stories eventually became a part of what is now a trilogy of books. The current tome is “Shackled Again? (Part 3).” All three books are filled with collections of stories, historical documents, census records, photos and personal accounts of those who lived and survived some of the most turbulent, dark years in American history.
While reading Shackled Again? readers should be prepared to experience an array of emotions, ranging from anger to sadness, to joy. A customer who ordered the book via
Amazon.com wrote: ‘This is a very hard book to look at and to read. But we all should try to understand our past and to try to understand the terrible dehumanizing and horror of slavery. I’m not sure we ever can grasp how some could think it possible, or moral, or any kind of right to believe that one human can own another.’
One of the book’s most haunting and memorable chapters is called ‘The Hanging Mothers.’ This chapter examines the atrocities of African American women who were brutally lynched, many while still pregnant, as in the case of Mary Turner in Lowndes County, Georgia.
The Shackled Again? journey started in 2009 when Mr. Watkins was visiting his great-grandmother in rural Alabama. He recalls the details: “Ma’dear had asked me to clean out an old shack on her property of more than 40. She needed me to put more hay inside of it for her cows. While inside, I saw a hole in the middle of the floor right, in front of the fireplace. In the corner of the old abandon house, there was a pitchfork, so I grabbed it and began to break up some dirt. After several strokes, I heard a loud clanking sound. At first, I thought it was just an old rusty drink can, but as I dug further down into the ground, one of the teeth of the pitchfork caught on a pair of iron shackles,” Little did Tony know at the time, but those rusty old shackles would be the start of an ongoing educational and informative saga that’s a vital part of American history, particularly southern history.
“I showed the shackles to Ma’ dear and her reaction was very different than mine. With sadness in her eyes, she told me to bury those shackles again. But I couldn’t. As time passed, she was finally able to tell me some details about those shackles and her grandmother when she was a slave child.” Watkins says finding those shackles sparked a deep desire within him to uncover more stories about people that were unknown or long forgotten but, yet their lives and heroics should be shared in this generation.
The Shackled Again? books are now a part of the library at Faulkner University (Montgomery, AL) and they’re available in the Montgomery Public Library system. Mr. Watkins has appeared on several television shows throughout the country while promoting the book and has already started working with a producer about turning the book series into a documentary.
At the conclusion of the book, the question remains—Are African Americans still shackled or not? Have we digressed or progressed? The author makes a compelling and valid argument that causes the reader to examine and think deeply about these questions. Shackled Again? is available on Amazon, Books-A-Million and other places where books are sold.