Charcoal and Chalk
The inspiration for Charcoal and Chalk was born when I inherited several boxes of family letters, documents, and photos once the property of my maternal great grandfather, John Ogilvie Stevenson. Growing up I had heard snip-its of stories that this ancestor, newly from Scotland, had taught the freed slaves in Texas following the Civil War, and that to do this was a life-risking and noble endeavor.
These papers had been tucked away in closets and attics for close to 150 years. My Aunt Jo at one time delved into them and even transcribed a few stories written by John O. Stevenson telling of these adventurous years. He referred to himself in the third person as Ogilvie, (his mother’s maiden name and his middle name) in these accounts. Aunt Jo made notes in some of the margins, guessing the best she could at the identity of some of the people he referenced, but apparently did little research to verify her assumptions.
As I began reading the letters, dating from 1867 to 1873, the awesome story unfolded like fiction. I could not let it alone and began doing my own research. The further I dug, the more I knew I had to write the account of John Ogilvie Stevenson, teacher of the freedmen. But how to do this? I could compose a dry chronology of what happened by piecing together the letters and documents (which I eventually did and it is just that), or I could bring it to life by adding dialogue and characters—still remaining true to the actual events with some extra excitement thrown in. I decided on the latter, hoping the amazing sacrifices of these little known missionaries would reach more people.
My research introduced me to the Texas State Historical Association and the South Texas Historical Association. I became acquainted with personnel at several research libraries throughout the state and actually visited the two sites where John O. Stevenson taught the freed slaves. I came across erroneous information in books published by respected historians and realized they didn’t know what I knew because my family had held onto these precious documents for too many years. The John Ogilvie Stevenson papers are now housed at the Rosenberg Archival Library in Galveston providing access to all historians. As per arrangement with that library, Victoria College Archives also has a CD of all the papers.
Due to the ongoing research, life’s interruptions, and struggling with the difficult task of taking real events and turning them into story, this project took me seven years to write; then two more to seek a publisher, whittle the manuscript down to size, and search once again for a press that believed in the book. That finally happened in May, 2011, when I met Jan Holmes-Frost, editor for Fireship Press, at a writer’s conference.
Jan’s intrigue with John O. Stevenson prompted her to encourage me to write a sequel to Charcoal and Chalk. Throughout his life, my great grandfather championed worthy causes. A man before his time, Dr. Stevenson used the pulpit and further writing to stump for women’s suffrage. So, I am bringing to life once again a story worth telling—John Ogilvie’s conviction of equal rights not only for men of all races, but for women, too.