The Passage of Sun
Three brothers challenge the Convict Leasing System of forcing African American men into prison in order to continue providing slave labor and county revenue in Alabama following the Civil War.
Trapped in the new system of economic exploitation known as sharecropping, Matthew, Moses and Henry decide to become coal miners in order to pay off their family’s sharecropping debt to their former master, John Cunningham. However, when Henry, the youngest brother and the only one who can read, examines the contracts, he discovers that by signing them, they would be giving up all their civil liberties and thus sinking them back into slavery. So, they hand the contracts back to Banner Coal Mines owners, George and Jeb, who become angry at the brother’s indignation.
Meanwhile Tenzer Cunningham, the patriarch of the family, along with his grandson Jasper, (the son of Moses), tends his cotton farm. He is closely followed by John Cunningham, who appears frustrated that Tenzer will not sign his new sharecropping contract. Out of desperation, John threatens to take Jasper away from Tenzer, who even as a slave was not compliant. Tenzer orders Jasper to retrieve his rifle.
Once the rifle is retrieved, all mayhem is squashed without incident by Lenabell, Tenzer’s wife. She orders Tenzer and Jasper into the house leaving John and his grandson Walter alone in the field.
Later that evening, the family celebrates Tenzer’s 74th or 76th (he’s not sure how old he is) birthday. There’s a loud knock at the door and when Tenzer opens it, Sheriff Chaffin along with Deputy Smith and John Cunningham, announces they are there to arrest Jasper for attempted murder. When Moses speaks up on behalf of his son, he is also arrested.
During the trial Jasper and Moses are sentenced to 10 years in prison. Moses, who has been beaten and bruised, pleads with the judge to add Jasper’s sentence to his. The judge refuses and removes them from the court. Matthew, the older brother, feels Moses and Jasper will not be able to survive 10 years in prison. So, he tells Henry to take care of the family and he creates a ruckus in the courthouse that lands him in prison as well.
While waiting to be transported, Matthew, Moses and Jasper learn that their prison sentences have been purchased by George and Jeb and that they will be spending their entire 10 year sentences working, for free, in the mines.
Henry decides to write Oliver Howard, one of the founders of Howard University and the commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau. (An organization established by Congress to assist newly freed African Americans.) Impressed by Henry’s intellect, eloquence, and poise, he vows to help Henry and his family. However, he stresses that his organization has limited power and resources.
In the cotton fields, while pulling slugs, a disheartened Tenzer looks into the sky, then lays on the soil, and as cotton petals float around him, gently passes away. Simultaneously, Sade, Henry’s pregnant wife goes into labor and with the help of Lenabell, bares a son named Prince.
Months pass as Matthew, Moses and Jasper get acclimated to their new environment. As Moses grows weaker from the circulating poisonous gases and the colossal workload, he makes Matthew promise to take care of Jasper should something tragically happen to him.
In the meantime, Oliver Howard, true to his word of helping the Cunningham family, has found Matthew’s wife, Regina, who was sold by John Cunningham a year before the Civil War. Later it is revealed that she was raped and bore a child by John, which she named Michael.
Eventually Moses succumbs to his condition, and in doing so, exposes how truly unsafe the mines are for prisoners. In his demise, he ends up collapsing an entire section of the mine.
Henry, Lenabell, Sade, and Regina hear the sirens coming from the coal mines. Henry, Lenabell and Regina rush to the mine, where they eventually find Matthew and learn of Moses’ death. For the first time, Matthew also learns of his wife’s return and of his father’s passing.
Matthew secretly meets with Oliver and is discovered by George, who orders him back into the bunker. This infuriates Matthew who eventually returns his bunker after threatening George and receiving six months added to his sentence.
Introduced to Patrick McBride, (the leader of the Greenback Labor Union), by Oliver Howard, Henry begins speaking out on behalf of the union. While posting flyers, his is confronted by a band of racist, White men. However, the temperament of the White men are quickly subsided by the presence of Patrick and his assurance that Henry is a great speaker.
Later, Henry meets with Matthew and Jasper at the mines. He informs them that the Greenback Labor Party is about to call a strike. Matthew isn’t too happy about the idea because he believes it will make the situation worse for all the prisoners. He thinks a strike will only add to the workload of the prisoners and more men will die. At which Henry is advised by Jasper to make sure the union isn’t using him for their own agenda.
Not wanting to die in the mines, Matthew and Jasper devise a plan to escape without informing Henry. After quitting time, they linger back, and when the coast is clear, ignite the rickety post from the flammable gases that have been prevalent in the air. However, before they can exit, they are confronted by Jeb, who is eventually killed by Jasper.
Matthew and Jasper escape and hide out in the barn of the Tenzer home. A gun battle ensues that leaves Jasper, Sade, Sheriff Chaffin, George and a few others dead. Henry blames Matthew for being reckless, going rogue and causing such a catastrophe without thinking of the consequences. Matthew apologizes and tells Henry to take their mother, Lenabell, Regina, Michael and Prince north for their safety.
As Henry is about to leave, Regina decides to stay and fight with Matthew. They make make-shift graves for everyone (as if they are the only two survivors) and wait for the KKK.
Henry escapes with the rest of the family to Washington, D.C. and Howard University. Once there he is informed by the provost that Oliver Howard was so impressed with him that he set aside a scholarship for him to attend the university free of charge. Overwhelmed, he and his mother graciously accept. THE END.
Also, a talented author, playwright, and actor, he wrote the 2019 Emma Children’s Book Award nominated, Jesse and the Caterpillar Who Got Its Wings and the 2020 Max Lerner Award winning play, BROKEN.