“Breathtaking . . . Perhaps the best work of fiction ever done about the civil rights movement” from the award-winning actress and activist (Newsday).
When University of Michigan sophomore Celeste Tyree travels to Mississippi to volunteer her efforts in the Freedom Summer of 1964, she’s assigned to help register voters in the small town of Pineyville, a place best known for a notorious lynching that occurred only a few years earlier. As the long, hot summer unfolds, Celeste befriends several members of the community, but there are also those who are threatened by her and the change that her presence in the South represents. Finding inner strength as she helps lift the veil of oppression and learns valuable lessons about race, social change, and violence, Celeste prepares her adult students for their showdown with the county registrar. All the while, she struggles with loneliness, a worried father in Detroit, and her burgeoning feelings for Ed Jolivette, a young man also in Mississippi for the summer.
By summer’s end, Celeste learns there are no easy answers to the questions that preoccupy her—about violence and nonviolence, about race, identity, and color, and about the strength of love and family bonds. In Freshwater Road, Denise Nicholas has created an unforgettable story that—more than ten years after first appearing in print—continues to be one of the most cherished works of Civil Rights fiction.
“A bold new novel that explores the fault lines of class and race in 1964 Mississippi.” —The Washington Post
“Hypnotic . . . [Nicholas] conjures an insidious mood of fear and writes with lyrical prose.” —Entertainment Weekly
In her rich, absorbing debut, actress Nicholas (Room 222; In the Heat of the Night) follows a young woman South to "trench Mississippi, gutbucket Mississippi" during the summer of 1964. The daughter of a Detroit bar owner/numbers runner and his estranged, class-conscious ex-wife (whose light complexion enables her to pass as white), Celeste Tyree has enjoyed a comfortable, sheltered middle-class life for all of her nearly two decades. But when activists talking of nonviolent revolution visit her Ann Arbor college campus, she determines to go South to help register blacks to vote. It's a decision she shares with her stern father, Shuck, in a "By the time you read this" letter, and Shuck's self-identification as a race man wars with his concern for his daughter. Part of what drives wide-eyed Northerner Celeste is her sense that her life little matches common black experience; her work in Mississippi is an attempt to validate her identity as a black woman as much as it is a journey to help lift the veil of oppression. Nicholas tests her protagonist's mettle in multiple ways, and Celeste finds previously untapped reserves of strength, learning lessons about activism and secrets about her own family. Sometimes gorgeous, sometimes terrifying, this novel marks the debut of a talented writer.