Reviewed by Doc Lawrence
STONE MOUNTAIN, GA-The theologian and ethicist Reinhold Niebuhr asserted that only individual men and women have the strength to hold fast to virtue when faced with the threat of death. Slavery was once an official state supported institution that when consumed by fear of extinction, swif
The Civil War was a frightening stage featuring epic struggles encompassing many differences, particularly slavery. The South was far more complex than popularly perceived and beneath the veneer of history, many very significant complexities continue to be overlooked. George D. N. Coletti, a gifted author, addresses important omissions in his engaging, instructive book, The Red Spoke (Dragonfly Creek Publishing, (2015). History embraced with good storytelling offers a rear window for pondering these mighty forces.
The Red Spoke comes with a bonus: Coletti’s compelling style and engaging characters make for some spellbinding reading enjoyment.
Not all white Southerners were sympathetic to slavery. Some were quiet abolitionists and aided the escape of slaves along the Underground Railroad. Buck Jernigan, the book's protagonist, lives in Stone Mountain, Georgia with his family and two free former slaves. Jernigan and one free man become deeply involved in the forbidden network of secret routes and safe houses used to escape, hoping to find freedom in Northern states and Canada. Legends of the Underground Railroad like Harriett Tubman meet with them. Buck and Isaac, the freed slave, become deeply submerged in the Underground Railroad. Buck and Isaac are stealth abolitionists able to free nearly fifty local slaves.
The risks for taking these actions were perilous.
Whether called the Civil War or War Between the States, the romance, drama and mystery never subside. There are many reasons why so much of the world remains fascinated by Scarlett O’Hara, Rhett Butler and Tara.
George D.N. Coletti is uniquely positioned as an author to tell this story. Living just outside Atlanta in the Historic Village of Stone Mountain and highly active in preserving the area’s history, his perspective is advantageous and attuned to accuracy in interpretation. In fact, The Red Spoke brings us back to Buck Jernigan, the protagonist in Coletti’s well-received Stone Mountain: The Granite Sentinel. Jernigan’s role in this successor book is that of a compassionate man, loyal to family and community but at odds with human bondage. Jernigan, at all times a Southern man, stars in the story, assuming a hero's mantle.
|George Coletti Signing his Book|
For those who romanticize war, Coletti’s well-researched scenes of the destruction of Atlanta, the sacking of homes, smokehouses, crops, indiscriminate robbing of civilians and harassment of hospital staff and wounded patients is discomforting. Atrocities were not confined to Confederate sympathizers: Those who flew the Star and Stripes got little or no protection from criminal bummers and their mindless, wanton thievery. How all this somehow shortened the Civil War will elude the most detached reader.
Buck, along with his family and friends both white and black, are admirable folks who want nothing more than to survive. They strive not to succumb to the ravages of war even as it comes to their very doorstep in the person of General William T. Sherman, who appears as a contradiction: A ferocious warrior surprisingly receptive at times to appeals for compassion and understanding.
This tale of war and the relationships that bind us prompts tears and laughter. Here’s a gripping story that takes you back to the events that in one way or another actually happened, describing graphically the omnipresent terrifying tension fueled by the uncertainty of survival. But, like Niehbuhr’s morally grounded individuals, Buck Jernigan and his extended family stand on the right side of choices and in the end, eschew bitterness and hatred, accepting what fate has dealt them with admirable strength and dignity.
George Coletti is uniquely positioned to write this book, one firmly supported by history, both written and passed down through oral tradition. A lifelong and prominent resident of the greater Stone Mountain community, he has served as a consultant for documentaries and motion pictures filmed in the area, contributed significantly to visitor guides for Civil War tourism and is a man loaded with beneficial energy.
After enduring unconscionable loss, suffering and destruction, some of these good people survived. Their legacy is the cultural bedrock of not only Stone Mountain but also much of today’s South. The Red Spoke serves a higher purpose, a spirited testament confirming Victor Hugo’s tribute to the majesty of the human spirit: “Nothing can withstand the force of an idea whose time has come.”