On Representation

One of the questions that has come up about Papa Put A Man on the Moon is the representation of African-Americans in the book given that Slater, SC is a southern mill village.

The history of the United States, and the South in particular, is one of harsh injustice in relation to the treatment of African-Americans. And truth be told, Slater was no stranger to some of those injustices. But in other ways, Slater, SC was a bit of an anomaly among southern towns. The mill itself was integrated earlier than some other industries and there were opportunities in the mill village, including sports, movies, and activities for all races. The mill’s production of the all-important Beta-cloth that was used in the astronauts’ spacesuits was integrated with both races working on that cloth.

In Papa Put a Man on the Moon, my editor and I didn’t want to promote an inaccurate or romanticized view of race relations in the community; however, in my research I discovered a deep sense of belonging to the community by both races. It felt wrong to ignore that sense of belonging by limiting the representation in the book to only white people. As the Cruell sisters say in the video below, “It wasn’t strange for us to come together, ’cause my dad knew their dad.” They all had access to “the building,” which was placed there by the mill in the 1930’s. Ignoring that connection in Papa would have meant ignoring a history that, while imperfect, made Slater, SC a home for both races.

I am particularly grateful for the Cruell family’s words in this video. So many of my own childhood memories are from exploring and playing and celebrating on that mill hill and their words show me that our love for and connection to this place is human and unifying. That connection doesn’t erase all of history’s sins, but it unites us at the heart level. And I am grateful to have been able to celebrate that love and connection in PAPA PUT A MAN ON THE MOON.

Discover more in this video from the Slater Hall Historical Society, which includes a bit from many voices who grew up with a deep sense of belonging to “the hill.” As Rachel Austin says in the video, “That’s the difference between ‘Southern’ and ‘Slater.'”

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