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Black Cloud Rises tells the harrowing story of a former enslaved man’s fight for freedom

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Through the eyes of Richard Etheridge, we travel the shaky road of his life in David Wright Fallade’s novel The Rolling Black Cloud. This is a fictional story intertwined with real life events.

A black cloud is rising – a novel by David Wright Faladze.

Etheridge was a real man, a member of the African Brigade, who fought in the Civil War. His strength carries him and those like him on their journey to break free from slavery in a land where they know they are needed but not needed; declared free, but not really.

Etheridge, known as “Dick” by all who knew him, was born a slave on Roanoke Island, the son of a slave mother and their master. He is taught to read and write by his half-sister, the daughter of his abolitionist owner.

His memories of being “almost” a member of his white owner’s family, compared to his status as a fighter in the Freedman, leave him torn with a sense of being forced to feel like a nobody and to believe he is somebody.

Etheridge sees it and feels it when he is eventually promoted to sergeant. The validity of the brigade’s existence is a constant ghost. Black men in Union blue, black men fighting and killing white men, black men free; juxtaposition of duty to country, family and oneself. He was a naive 21-year-old when he joined the brigade, their mission to track down Confederate guerrillas in the fall of 1863.

Many of the crew, like Etheridge, struggle on the very land where they were once enslaved, struggling not only with their own conditioned question of place as they confront their former owners, their sons and brothers, but also with the morality of it. A morality he comes face to face on the battlefield, eye to eye with his own half-brother, who once told him he was “just like family.”

“Just as a family? we there is family!” is Etheridge’s reply. Deep down, he also knows that freedom is a calling at any cost.

The book’s title, Black Cloud Rises, comes from a song of the era sung about Black Union troops such as Etheridge and his fellow brigade members. Their leader is a red-bearded abolitionist named Edward Wilde. “Savage” in his eyes and carriage, he is a type of General and John Brown, a force to be reckoned with, freeing all the slaves he, Etheridge and the African Brigade encounter as they make their way to the safety of the North Carolina coast and its bayous . Etheridge and others on the team respect and love him for it.

The brigade is glorious to the enslaved who look up to them and despised by white southerners who hate and fear them. “If this country is taken again, you scoundrels who betrayed it will not fare well,” warns Etheridge, his general’s brother.

“I suspect you’re right. Still, I’ll risk my freedom,” Etheridge replies.

Faladé brings Etheridge’s “chance at freedom” to life in the difficult, terrifying and bloody journey to freedom; a story long ago and rarely talked about.

Falade is a headliner at the Mississippi Book Festival on August 20.

READ MORE: In Motion Made Us, father and son reflect on the past, both remembered and forgotten

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