DiscoverAfrican American fiction

The Legend of Sister Hattie Harris

By

Worth reading 😎

A condensed historical tale of the Black American experience, spanning a couple of generations.

Synopsis

This is the beginning of a three-part series following the chronicles of Helena ‘Hattie’ Harris from her victorious journey to becoming a world class jazz singer to her descension into a psychotic mental breakdown.
Born in impoverished conditions to parents of escaped slaves, she unexpectedly prevailed as the last of 14 children. This story will begin at the bloody battle of an untold slave revolt in the middle 1800s through the savvy, influential neon glamour of the great Jazz Renaissances of Chicago and New York in the 1930s.
This is the violent tale of vengeance and redemption concerning a very strong willed, determined and talented young African American woman from rural Ohio, who holds a personal vendetta against Klansman, Chicago mobsters and every undesirable in between during The Great Depression

I was excited to read The Legend of Sister Hattie Harris by Juntu Ahjee. Based on the description, I anticipated a feel-good triumphant story of a Black woman in a country that makes life hard for her to exist. In some ways, the author delivered.


Ahjee lets readers into the lives of fictional character Hattie Harris and her family, mainly her parents. The story starts with James Harris and his sweetheart Ella Mae. The author weaves the couple's love story with historical figures like Harriet Tubman and Fredrick Douglas as well as events like the Raid at Combahee Ferry. James and Ella Mae end up married and with children, one of whom is Hattie.


Once the story takes traction, it focuses on Hattie and her life's journey, most of which have her succeeding without a whole lot of work. So, in many ways, the book takes on a Forrest Gump tone, that of the lucky protagonist who suffers little and gains much without a lot of work. There is nothing wrong with that type of story. It's warm and fuzzy, and there are plenty of readers who like that kind of tale. Unfortunately, the historian and racial justice advocate in me had a hard time just relaxing with the plot because of the inclusion of historical and cultural dynamics. Many people won't have that struggle and will be able to enjoy the book.


I received an ARC of the book. The copy I have is formatted more like a blog or social media post. There are no indentations at the beginning of paragraphs, so it reads more like a textbook, which is not a serious problem. Dialogue between characters occur in one paragraph, making it hard to determine who is saying what. I got over it by the third chapter and adjusted to the third-person omniscient voice as well.


The Legend of Sister Hattie Harris is a packed hero's journey. Readers, who like a chronicler’s tale and want a Black experience text with a triumphant main character, may find it pleasant. **Note - This story has a cliffhanger.

Reviewed by

I have a B.A. in Historical Studies and Literature, an M.A. in Liberal Studies, and an AC in Women and Gender Studies. I am an adjunct instructor, writer and content editor. I have a strong background in literary criticism and have been reviewing books for several years.

Synopsis

This is the beginning of a three-part series following the chronicles of Helena ‘Hattie’ Harris from her victorious journey to becoming a world class jazz singer to her descension into a psychotic mental breakdown.
Born in impoverished conditions to parents of escaped slaves, she unexpectedly prevailed as the last of 14 children. This story will begin at the bloody battle of an untold slave revolt in the middle 1800s through the savvy, influential neon glamour of the great Jazz Renaissances of Chicago and New York in the 1930s.
This is the violent tale of vengeance and redemption concerning a very strong willed, determined and talented young African American woman from rural Ohio, who holds a personal vendetta against Klansman, Chicago mobsters and every undesirable in between during The Great Depression

EVOLUTION TO LIBERATION

It began on the night before June 2, 1863 in the dusk before nightfall. A very husky, thick mustached 22-year-old young African-American man, named James M. F. Harris made a promise to his first and only true love, a young, feisty 16-year-old African-American girl named Ella Mae that he would marry and love her for all eternity. Of course, that would be after they both could escape Moreton Plantation in South Carolina, as they were both captive slaves. Exactly one week, prior to this special engagement, James Harris, watched in complete disbelief, the bloody & explicit execution of his father (John Lee Harris) for trying to escape.

As his body is dismembered, the rest of his family (mother, brothers, sisters, cousins) are ruthlessly executed for attempted rebellion, but young James ideally stood by in shock, however, remembering a devotion to Ella Mae, who’s family was also mercilessly gunned down for disobedience. James also swore to distribute personal vengeance for the killings of his and Ella Mae’s family.

James Harris, a man of enormous strength, was one of the strongest farm hands on the Moreton plantation. It was once believed, but never proven that James was so strong that he could lift an adult horse with one single lift. Ella Mae is one of most resourceful, who was depended on such improvising techniques on how to create soap and laundry detergent. James & Ella Mae knew their only means of survival was to escape the plantation. Together, they made a pact and took their vows. Slaves weren’t allowed to marry legally, however, James and Ella Mae didn’t know that, so it made no difference to them. James, chewing on some Black Birch bark from a nearby tree, looks into Ella Mae’s light brown eyes and says, “Ellie, from now on, no matter what happens, I’m gonna love and keep you until death do us part. And after we get free, I’m gonna love you a little longer.” Ella Mae smiles and they share a tender kiss before James is taken away shackled in chains.

On this fateful night, June 2, 1863, a rebellion uprising was occurring, led by a Union Army worker, an African American woman named Harriet Tubman. It was rumored that many of the Confederate States were on the brink of martial law and imminent civil war, which put all the plantations on high alert. The Moreton Plantation was no exception! Joseph Moreton, owner of the plantation and lead patriarch, ordered extra security around the living quarters of the men. He also commanded that all the ‘Negro’ women and children be locked up in the basement in case of an escape attempt. “We can’t afford to lose none of our negrits, mess up an entire crop season, cost us all a great fortune. Keep em on ice until this thing blows over”, says Moreton. Of course, the news of this spread very quickly and James Harris, chewing on bark, listened very earnestly. Apparently, Moreton and his gatekeepers totally underestimated James’ strength, as those chains and shackles just wasn’t strong enough to subdue him.

While being heavily guarded in his quarters, James snaps apart each chain effortlessly, although he has some minor cuts and bruises. He splinters off the shackles around his legs and feet. James is locked up in a shed with 10 of the men. One of the fellow prisoners says, “Jimbo, what chu doing?” James replies, “I’mma go git my wife and skedaddle the hell up outta here.” The other prisoner says, “Jimbo, you crazy! The got 15 guards out dere wit guns surrounding the building.” Another prisoner says, “They probably got another 15 or 20 out in the field surrounding the entire plantation Jimbo. How you go’n git out?” James sits for a minute, then looks at the men and says, “If I break dem chains off, what y’all go’n do?” The prisoner sitting next to James says, “Let’s go kill these mutha fukkas on this plantation and send em to damnation!” James says, “Damn right!”

There’s approximately 8 to 9 other quarters or sheds with around 10 men inside. It’s extremely cold outside. As James, quietly breaks the chains off his fellow prisoners, he instructs them to remain silent. “Wait a while before we make a move,” James says, “This is only go’n work if we work together boys. Once we out in the open, dem crackers are gonna start shooting at everything movin’. We gotta git em one at a time, ya hear?” At least 2 guards take turns rotating around each shed, which would leave about 5 to 7 minutes for them to circle the building.

As the temperatures drop, the frost from his breath dissipates into smoke when James says to the men, “The next one passes, we take em!” James is looking through the cracks of the old wood door. A guard walks by to peep in on the prisoners, who appear to be asleep. He opens the door and James expeditiously snatches the guard up by throat and snaps his neck. The other guard hears the noise and comes around to investigate, but not before being grabbed by another prisoner, having his neck broken as well.

Now, with 2 loaded rifles, James tells the other men, “I’mma take a gun and leave y’all wit one. I’m go’n to git my wife. River only 10 miles from here to the next county, y’all can make from here. Join dat rebellion, I’ll catch up wit ya later!” One prisoner says, “Jimbo, what about the rest of the men, women and children? We can’t just leave em behind. And how you go’n git out all by yourself?” James says, “I’m jus so damn happy to be holding a gun, I didn’t even think about all dat, shit, you right. Let’s go bust em out!”

The time is nearing 10 p.m. Tensions about the Combahee Ferry Raid start to develop. Moreland becomes extremely nervous and paranoid. He sends a telex for more security as his fears began to slowly materialize.

Meanwhile, James Harris and his comrades in arms, quietly kill several more guards, freeing several more men and taking up arms. Now, with 24 armed men, as they move towards the plantation house to free the women and children, it would seem as if the odds were in their favor. However, not everyone got the memo from James about moving in silence. A young prisoner sees a guard who sexually abused him decided that it was good idea to shoot at him, to which he missed, but not after setting off a plethora of alarms.

Suddenly, James and his fellow comrades are embroiled in a massive furious gun battle to which there’s seemingly no escape. It was rumored to be one of the most violent slave rebellions undocumented, as various weapons were dispensed to attack. Eight of the prisoners were shot dead on sight. As James and his comrades moved closer to the house, successfully eliminating multiple guards. Multiple bloody gunshot wounds were inflicted to the men on both sides of the fighting. The women and children who were locked down in the basement could clearly hear very loud gunfire from below. Ella Mae is in tears thinking James was killed! Numerous saddle men rode in from the field blazing and blasting their guns at James and his comrades. As James instructed them to “TAKE COVER!”, many of them were wounded but kept fighting vigorously, non-stop! As James, reloaded the Winchester rifle and positioned himself, he expertly shot 7 of the saddle men down (in the chest and head). Blood ran down the sides of their horses, as the rest of James’ comrades fired off their rifles, killing all guards and saddle men. Moreland, in a complete state of panic, grabs his Colt 45 Revolver and commences downstairs to hopefully try to make an escape himself. James sees him and confronts him. They both have a standoff on the porch! James shouts, “MR. MORELAND! IT’S TIME!” James only has one round left in the rifle, while Moreland’s gun is fully loaded. James, with a very commanding and menacing look on his face, says to Moreland, “How does it feel to be a nigger Mr. Moreland? Cause right now, I don’t see none!” Moreland, now realizing all his men have been killed or mortally wounded, and has no chance of escape, says to James, “YOU’RE DEAD BOY! YOU THINK IT’S OVER! IT’S JUST BEGINNING!” Moreland draws his Colt 45 Revolver on James, to which James racks the rifle at Moreland and shoots him directly in the chest, it exploded. An extremely large abundance of blood was all over the porch. James says, “It’s the end for you!” James, chewing on a stick of bark, gladly commandeers Moreland’s Colt 45 pistol for his own keeping. James also ordered his comrades to “take back what’s yours and destroy what’s theirs”, regarding the plantation owners, guards and saddle men who were wounded and not dead. “What about the ones still living Jimbo? Some of em still breathing and bleeding” says one comrade. James calmly says, “Crucify em!” They were lynched, nailed to various trees and castrated.

James Harris, though wounded himself, swiftly kicks down the door holding Ella Mae and the other women and children trapped. As they all run towards freedom, Ella Mae pauses in disbelief that her man is still alive and well. She very quickly runs to his arms, as they embrace and kiss passionately. James says to Ella Mae, “Didn’t I tell you I was gonna love you til ternity Ellie.” Ella Mae replies, “I never had a doubt Jimbo!”

As James and Ella Mae, along with their fellow captives made their way to join Harriet Tubman’s rebellion, James and Ella Mae eventually did marry legally in a proper ceremony, with an ordained minister, so it was told! Harriet Tubman was also there in attendance. The Moreton Plantation rebellion was an unwritten chapter during this period. Maybe forgotten to some, undiscovered by many as an urban legend. Regardless of popular opinion, the best was yet to be seen from James & Ella Mae Harris.

About the author

Juntu Ahjee, originally from Oklahoma City, he began his journey in 1979 writing short horror stories. In 1988, he earned an Urban Spirit Award. In 1999, he relocated to Seattle, WA and embarked on music writing. In 2019, his poem, ‘81st Street’ won the 2019 National Poetry Award for Nubian Poets. view profile

Published on May 30, 2020

Published by

30000 words

Contains explicit content ⚠️

Genre: African American fiction

Reviewed by