By Rebecca T. Dickinson
I took the red brick road.
With two left feet, the 18-year-old version of me took her first step on the red bricks of the University of South Carolina’s Horseshoe. In flip flops, other people would—and still—trip over bricks popping out of place since the 1800s.
The pathway not only took me to classes in the English building to Education; it was there through the good and bad.
On Saturday, I went to the South Carolina Book Festival. I also revisited college roots walking the Horseshoe. The temperature was the perfect blend of warm with a cool breeze; something also rare in Columbia. Flowers blossomed in gardens behind the college’s oldest buildings. A group of high school students took prom pictures. Two expectant moms took photos in front of a Gamecock (school mascot) decorated wreath with baby items.
Taking photos triggered memories. How many times did I notice this or that? I remember the time …
I remember so many times on the red brick road. I took it to a sorority at a time when I battled extreme insecurity, and not long after, I hit the path running. Hand in hand, I walked with my college boyfriend. He talked Science. I spoke of books. It also ended.
But, the Horseshoe did not lead me to the same dead end as the man buried next to it.
It led me to my destiny as a writer and person. In 2006, I dreamed of writing this book. It required a little research. Lucky me, I was a History major, and I mean the nerdy kind who looked forward to going to specific libraries.
Off the red brick road stands South Carolina’s first library. Fat, white columns hold up the bricks. It is the hall of worship. It has called me so many times.
The same library intimidated me the first time I stepped inside for book research; not school research. I used every bit of research I could find from a moonshiner’s journal, to microfilm, and political pamphlets from the 1920s. Sons of the Edisto was born in the South Carolinana Library. Rebecca T. Dickinson, the writer, began there, too.
Before the book, I still fiddled with poetry and did not consider myself much of a fiction writer. I had written one story for a class about a girl trying to run out of Columbia at the time Sherman was destroying the city. Even though some in my class liked it, I’d grown sick of Civil War stories and how much that war defined parts of the Southern cannon.
One of the few World War I or Great War memorials to stand on its own without World War II.
With the help of the South Carolinana library—whose digital library and newspaper archives I still use—I began a project to show history of a different nature. The red brick road led me to a time when women’s skirts became shorter. A time when the train delivered Ford Model-Ts to Bamberg’s dealership. The age when families began driving from New York to Miami despite the lack of concrete roads and strong tires. They stopped in little towns like Bamberg, and fed its economy. Yes, the economy was in bloom. Storefronts were filled.
And at the heart of my book, the research deals with cold facts of reality. The Ku Klux Klan existed. It had 5 million members across the United States, including New York. It was a group that never should have come into being.
Politicians used this group, that included educated men and women, to push its agendas. It was anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic and racist towards blacks, Jews, Irish and Eastern Europeans.
I conclude the history lesson.
Without my walks on the red brick road, I would not have learned some tough lessons. I also would not have the story that has led me to write.
Follow your red brick road wherever it might lead.