The Black Rose: A Novel by Tananarive DueThe Black Rose: A Novel by Tananarive Due

The Black Rose: A Novel

byTananarive Due

Paperback | January 2, 2001

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“One of the most exciting novels of the year . . . The dramatic story of Madam C.J. Walker, America’s first black female millionare.”—E. Lynn Harris

Born to former slaves on a Louisiana plantation in 1867, Madam C.J. Walker rose from poverty and indignity to become America’s first black female millionaire, the head of a hugely successful beauty company, and a leading philanthropist in African American causes. Renowned author Alex Haley became fascinated by the story of this extraordinary heroine, and before his death in 1992, he embarked on the research and outline of a major novel based on her life. Now with The Black Rose, critically acclaimed writer Tananarive Due brings Haley’s work to an inspiring completion.

Blending documented history, vivid dialogue, and a sweeping fictionalized narrative, Tananarive Due paints a vivid portrait of this passionate and tenacious pioneer and the unforgettable era in which she lived.

Praise for The Black Rose

“An artfully framed page-turner.”Essence

“An impressive accomplishment . . . Due’s combination of historical study and fictional exploration endows this gripping tale with intimacy and emotional authenticity.”The Miami Herald
Tananarive Due is a former features writer and columnist for the Miami Herald. She has written two highly acclaimed novels: The Between and My Soul to Keep. Ms. Due makes her home in Longview, Washington.
Title:The Black Rose: A NovelFormat:PaperbackDimensions:384 pages, 8.5 × 5.51 × 0.81 inPublished:January 2, 2001Publisher:Random House Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0345441567

ISBN - 13:9780345441560

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Read from the Book

Chapter OneDelta, LouisianaSpring 1874The slave-kitchers couldn't get her. Not so long as she stayed hid.Stealthily, Sarah crouched her small frame behind the thick tangle of tallgrass that pricked through the thin fabric of her dress, which was so wornat the hem that it had frayed into feathery threads that tickled her shins."Sarah, where you at?"Sarah felt her heart leap when she heard the dreaded voice so closeto her. That was the meanest, most devilish slave-kitcher of all, the onecalled Terrible Lou the Wicked. If Terrible Lou the Wicked caught her,Sarah knew she'd be sold west to the Indians for sure and she'd never seeher family again. Sarah tried to slow her breathing so she could be quietas a skulking cat. The brush near her stirred as Terrible Lou barreledthrough, searching for her. Sweat trickled into Sarah's eye, but shedidn't move even to rub out the sting."See, I done tol' Mama 'bout how you do. Ain't nobody playin' no gameswith you! I'ma find you, watch. And when I do, I'ma break me off a switch,an' you better not holler."A whipping! Sarah had heard Terrible Lou whipped little children half todeath just for the fun of it, even babies. Sarah was more determined thanever not to be caught. If Terrible Lou found her, Sarah decided she'd jumpout and wrastle her to the ground. Sarah crouched closer to the ground,ready to spring. She felt her heart going boom-boom boom-boom deep in herchest. "Ain't no slave-kitcher takin' me!" Sarah yelled out, daringTerrible Lou."Yes, one is, too," Terrible Lou said, the voice suddenly much closer."I'ma cut you up an' sell you in bits if you don't come an' git back towork."Sarah saw her sister Louvenia's plaited head appear right in front of her,her teeth drawn back into a snarl, and she screamed. Louvenia was too bigto wrastle! Screaming again, Sarah took off running in the high grass, andshe could feel her sister's heels right behind her step for step. Louveniawas laughing, and soon Sarah was laughing, too, even though it made herlungs hurt because she was running so hard."You always playin' some game! Well, I'ma catch you, too. How come you soslow?" Louvenia said, forcing the words through her hard breaths, her legspumping."How come you so ugly?" Sarah taunted, and shrieked again as Louvenia'sarm lunged toward her, brushing the back of her dress. Sarah barely dartedfree with a spurt of speed."You gon' be pickin' rice 'til you fall an' drown in them rice fieldsdownriver.""No, I ain't neither! You the one gon' drown," Sarah said."You the one can't swim good.""Can, too! Better'n you." By now, Sarah was nearly gasping from the effortof running as she climbed the knoll behind their house. Louvenia lungedafter her legs, and they both tumbled into the overgrown crabgrass. Theyswatted at each other playfully, and Sarah tried to wriggle away, butLouvenia held her firmly around her waist."See, you caught now!" Louvenia said breathlessly. "I'ma sell you for ahalf dollar.""A half dollar!" Sarah said, insulted. She gave up her struggle againsther older sister's tight grip. Louvenia's arms, it seemed to her, were asstrong as a man's. "What you mean? Papa paid a dollar for his new boots!"Louvenia grinned wickedly. "That's right. You ain't even worth one ofPapa's boots, lazy as you is.""There Papa go now. I'ma ask him what he say I'm worth," Sarah teased, andLouvenia glanced around anxiously for Papa. If Papa saw Louvenia pinningSarah to the ground, Sarah knew he'd whip Louvenia for sure. Louvenia andAlex weren't allowed to play rough with Sarah. That was Papa's law,because she was the baby. And she'd been born two days before Christmas,Sarah liked to remind Louvenia, so she was close to baby Jesus besides."You done it agin, Sarah. Got me playin'," Louvenia complained, satisfiedthat Papa was nowhere near after peering toward the dirt road and dozensof acres of cotton fields that had been planted in March and April,sprouting with plants and troublesome grass and weeds. Still, her voicewas much more hushed than it had been before. "You always gittin' somebodyin trouble.""I ain't tell you to chase me. An' I ain't tell you to stop workin'.""Sarah, see, you think we jus' out here playin', but then I'm the one gotto answer why we ain't finish yet."Seeing Louvenia's earnest brown eyes, Sarah knew for the first time thather sister had lost the heart to pretend she was a slave-kitcher, or forany games at all. Right now, Louvenia's face looked as solemn as Mama's orPapa's when the cotton yields were poor or when their house was too cold.And Louvenia was right, Sarah knew. Just a few days before, Louvenia hadbeen whipped when they broke one of the eggs they'd been gathering in thehenhouse. It had been Lou's idea to break up the boredom of the task bytossing the eggs to each other standing farther and farther away. Theybroke an egg by the time they were through, and Sarah hadn't seen Mamathat mad in a long time. "Girl, you ten years old, almost grown!" Mama hadsaid, thrashing Louvenia's bottom with a thin branch from the sassafrastree near their front door. "That baby ain't s'posed to be lookin' afteryou! When you gon' get some head sense?"Louvenia's eyes, to Sarah, looked sad and even a little scared. Maybe shewas remembering her thrashing, too. Sarah didn't want her sister to feelcross with her, because Louvenia was her only playmate. In fact, althoughSarah would never want to admit it to her, Louvenia was her best friend,her most favorite person. Next to Papa and Mama, of course.Sarah squeezed Lou's hand. "Come on, I'll help. We won't play no mo' 'tilwe done.""We ain't gon' be done 'fore Papa and them come back.""Yeah, we will, too," Sarah said. "If we sing."That made Louvenia smile. She liked to sing, and Papa had taught themsongs he learned from his pappy when he was a boy on a big plan-tation he said had a hundred slaves. Sarah couldn't sing as well as hersister--her voice wouldn't always do what she told it to--but singing alwaysmade work go by faster. Mama sang, too, when the womenfolk came onSaturdays to wash laundry with them on the riverbank. But Papa had thebest voice of all. Papa sang when he was picking, and to Sarah his voicewas as deep and pretty as the Mississippi River on a full-moon night. Papaalways started singing when he was tired, and Sarah liked to watch himpick up his broad shoulders each time he took a breath before singing anew verse, as if the song was making him stronger:O me no weary yet,O me no weary yet.I have a witness in my heart,O me no weary yet.Sarah and Louvenia enjoyed the uplifting messages in Mama's and Papa'ssongs, which were mostly about Jesus, heaven, and Gabriel's trumpet, butthey also liked the sillier songs Mama didn't approve of, the ones Papasang on Saturday nights after he'd had a drink from the jug he kept hiddenbehind the old cracked wagon wheel that leaned against their cabin. Sarahand Louvenia thought those songs were funny, so that was what they sangthat afternoon as they crouched to chop weeds from Mama's garden:Hi-ho, for Charleston gals!Charleston gals are the gals for me.As I went a-walking down the street,Up steps Charleston gals to take a walk with me.I kep' a-walking and they kep' a-talking,I danced with a gal with a hole in her stocking.Together, as Sarah and her sister yanked up the stubborn weeds that grewfrustratingly fast around Mama's rows of green beans, potatoes, and yams,they sang their father's old songs. Finally, the boredom that had feltlike it was choking Sarah all day long in the hot sun finally let her mindalone. Instead of fantasizing about slave-kitchers Papa had told themso many stories about, or fishing for catfish, or the peppermint sticks atthe general store in town she was allowed to eat at Christmastime, Sarahthought only of her task. Her hands seemed to fly. She'd chop the soil toloosen it with the rusted old hatchet Papa let her use, then pull up theweeds by the roots so they wouldn't come back. Chop and pull, chop andpull. Sarah didn't stop working even when the rows of calluses on hersmall hands began to throb in rhythm with her chopping. By the time theysaw Mama's kerchief bobbing toward the house in the distance, followed byPapa's wide-brim hat, their weeding was finished, and they were lying ontheir backs in the crabgrass behind their house, arguing over what shapesthey could see in the ghostly moon that was just beginning to make itselfvisible in a corner of the late-afternoon sky.The cabin's windows, which were pasted shut with paper instead of glassduring cooler months, were a curse in the winter, since they were littleprotection against the biting cold even with the shutters tied shut. Butnow, in spring, when the bare windows should have been inviting in a cooltwilight breeze, the air inside the cabin was so still, so stiff and hotthat Sarah hated to breathe it. It felt to her like hot air was trapped inthe wooden walls, in the loose floorboards, in every crooked shingle onthe drafty roof. Sarah watched the sunlight creeping through the slattedcracks in the walls and ceiling where the mud needed patching, wishingdark would hurry up and come and make it cool. Hungry as she was, Sarahwished Mama didn't have the cookstove lit, because it only made the cabinhotter. And it wasn't even summertime yet, Sarah thought sadly. By summerthe heat would be worse, and the sun would bring out the cotton they wouldhave to pick come the first of September.Papa swatted at the big green flies and skeeters hovering abovethe table. Mosquitoes always seemed to know when it was suppertime, Sarahthought. Papa's arm moved lazily in front of his face as he shooed theinsects, as if he were hunched over the table asleep. Sarah knew betterthan to try to talk to Papa too soon after he'd come back from the fields,especially close to June. Sarah and Louvenia were both too small to helpin the fields in late May, because that was when Papa, Mama, and Alexpushed plows to break up acre after acre of soil to tend the cotton plantsproperly. Sarah and Louvenia did weeding, or on some days carried waterand corncakes out to the croppers. Papa hated plowing those deep furrowsbetween the rows, and Sarah could see how much he hated it in the lines onhis frowning, sunbaked face as he satat the table. Papa and Alex were barebacked, so slick with sweat theylooked greased up.Papa and Alex spoke to each other with short grunts and words uttered solow Sarah couldn't make out what they were saying, man-talking that camefrom deep in their throats. She'd heard men speak that way to each otherin the fields, or as they rested on the front stoop and shared a jug andrumbles of laughter. Papa grunted something, and Alex smiled, mutteringhusky words back. Sarah knew her brother was nearly a man now, and she'dseen the change in the way Papa treated him. It was the same way Mama wastreating Louvenia like a grown woman, expecting her to cook and mend anddo a bigger share of fieldwork. Everyone was grown-up except her.Sarah knew she could go to her pallet and play with the doll Papa had madeher out of cornhusks wrapped together with twine, but she wantedto be more grown-up than that. She walked across the cabin--she countedtwenty paces to get from one side to the other; she'd learned numbers upto twenty from Papa--and stood by the cookstove on her tiptoes to watchMama stir collard greens in her big saucepan while Louvenia sat on thefloor and mended a tear in her dress. Mama had one kerchief on her headand one knotted around her neck, both of them gray from grime. Her cheekswere full, and she had a youthful, pretty face; skin black as midnight andsmooth like an Indian squaw's, Papa always said. Gazing at her, Sarahwondered if her mother would ever become stooped-over and sour-faced likeso many other women she had seen in the fields.Sarah expected Mama to tell her to get from underfoot, but she didn't.Instead she gave Sarah a big, steaming bowl. "Pass yo' papa his supper,"Mama told her, and Sarah grinned. The smell of the greens, yams, and cornbread made her stomach flip from hunger. Papa's eyes didn't smile when hetook his food from Sarah, but he did squeeze her fingers. Sarah knew thatwas his special way of saying Thank you, Li'l Bit.Outside, Papa's hound barked loudly, and Papa and Alex looked upat the same instant. They all heard the whinny of a horse and a heavyclop-clopping sound that signaled the arrival of not one horse, but two ormore. An approaching wagon scraped loudly in the dirt."Who'n de world . . . ?" Mama said, leaning toward the window."Not-uh," Papa warned her, standing tall so quickly that his chairscreeched on the hard packed-dirt floor. "Don' put your head out. Gitback." Something in Papa's voice that Sarah couldn't quite name made herstomach fall silent, and it seemed to harden to stone. His voice wasdangerous, wound tight, and Sarah didn't know where that new quality hadcome from so suddenly. She had never heard Papa sound that way before.Silently, Mama took Sarah's hand and pulled her back toward the stove atthe rear of the cabin. Louvenia was still sitting on the floor, but herhands were frozen with her thread and needle in midair. Alex stood up atthe table while Papa took long strides to the doorway, where he stood withhis arms folded across his chest."Whoa there!" a man's voice outside snapped to his horses. It sounded likea white man. Sarah felt her mother's grip tighten around her fingers, herface drawn with concern.Papa's whole demeanor changed; the shoulders that had been thrust so highsuddenly fell, as if he had exhaled all his breath. He shifted his weight,no longer blocking the light from the doorway. The dangerous stance hadvanished. "Evenin', Missus," Papa said, nearly mumbling."Evening, Owen," a woman's voice said.A frightening thought came to Sarah: I hope they ain't here to take ourhouse away. She didn't know why the visitors would do something like that,but she did know that she'd heard Mama and Papa talking about theirpayment being late. And she knew that their house, like everythingelse--including the land as far as they could see, Papa's tools, theircottonseed, and even the straw pallets they slept on--belonged to theBurney daughters. Time was, before 'Man-ci-pa-tion and the war that endedtwo years before Sarah was born, and before Ole Marster and Ole Missusdied in '66 ("Of heartbreak," Mama always said, because of their landbeing overrun by Yankees and their crops and buildings burned up), theBurneys owned Mama and Papa and a lot of other slaves besides. Some ofthose slaves, like Mama and Papa, still worked on the land as croppers.But some of the other slaves, Mama told her, were so happy to be free thatthey'd just left.Where'd they go? Sarah had asked, full of wonder at the notion thatthe other freed slaves had crossed the bridge to go to Vicksburg, or evenbeyond. The only other places she knew about were Mississippi andCharleston, like in the song. Had they gone away on a steamship? On atrain?They went on they own feets, pullin' every scrap they owned on wagons,Mama said. And Lord only know where they at now. Might wish they was backhere. Now Sarah had a bad feeling. She wondered why Mama and Papa hadn'tpulled a wagon with every scrap they owned and left on their own feetafter freedom came, too. If they had, they wouldn't be late on theirpayment, and these white folks wouldn't be coming to take their house.

Editorial Reviews

“Tananarive Due is an engaging storyteller . . . The real-life Walker would probably have been pleased with the way Due depicts her. . . . The Black Rose is an inspiring, motivational book.”The Washington Post Book World

“A compelling narrative . . . This book is worth reading for anyone wanting a glimpse into what the human spirit can create with the odds stacked sky high.”USA Today