Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Meet My Experts III- Vermelle Diamond Ely

Congratulations to Joyce Hostetter who won the autographed copy of Darlene Jacobson's book, WHEELS OF CHANGE.

As promised several weeks ago, I want to share more about Vermelle Ely, one of my generous experts for Half-Truths, my WIP which takes place in Charlotte, NC in 1950.
Vermelle and I in her Charlotte, NC home
March, 2017

As anyone who writes historical fiction knows, you can't use every detail you glean from your interviews--no matter how delicious it is. In no particular order, here are some of the snippets I learned from Vermelle which have informed Half-Truths. 
  • In the late 40's and early 50's, a light-skinned African American girl was treated like a queen. If her hair was long and fair, she was even more special.
  • Sometimes people passed for convenience: to go out to eat, get their hair done, get waited on, or to move up to the front of line. Kids at the time might think, "In the movies no one would know know if you’re white or black.  Let’s see if we can do it just for fun."
  • Vermelle commented on my two characters that, "Lillie could have gone anywhere with Kate because she was so light. But Kate would have stuck out in the black community. She would have been accepted, but the police would have questioned her."

I found these posters at Vermelle's house and
photographed them. They were taken in 1968 to commemorate
the Queen City classic rivalry between
Second Ward and West Charlotte High

  • According to Vermelle, the girls would have been too scared to go to the movies or library together, but they may have talked on the phone. 
  • About 100 students who attended Second Ward lived in Biddleville and it took them 30 minutes to walk to school, including going through a cow pasture near Thompson orphanage
  • "We didn’t know, 'separate but equal.' We heard our parents talk about it though. We got all the hand me downs from the white schools. Books would have so many names in them, you couldn’t even put your name in it and the backs were off. We got stuff from Central High and inherited blue and white because that was their school colors."
  • Vermelle’s great-grandfather was from England and her great-grandmother was native American. When her maternal grandmother and grandfather died, the family went to Wilson, NC for the funeral.  She discovered that her great-grandfather  was buried in the white cemetery and her great-grandmother was buried in the black cemetery. “I was grown before I knew it. Nobody talked about race. My mother said her mother’s family was very fair and her father marched in the Elks parade."

Vermelle as Miss Queen City Classic in 1948
  • Vermelle remembered that the black WACS in WWII had to go up the backstairs of Montaldo's (a very expensive department store in downtown Charlotte) to try on their uniforms. 
Vermelle has struggled with poor eyesight for years and can no longer read printed material. Recently I read several chapters to her. You can imagine how pleased I was when she nodded and agreed with my descriptions and the characters' interactions. Sharp as ever, she made comments on what was true to life and what wasn't. Happily, she didn't find much that was inaccurate. 

I am indebted to Vermelle and my other experts, who have shared their life stories so that my story is more authentic. 


Sandra Warren said...

Fantastic interview Carol. Thanks for sharing. Having written a nonfiction, I know how important primary sources can be. But you do hold your breath as they read what you've written. I was so relieved when the 99-year old pilot approved the chapter on his bomber crash. Writing non-fiction or historical fiction is so interesting and just plain fun.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Sandra! Yes, it is fun and you hold your breath at the same time!!

Joan Y. Edwards said...

Dear Carol,
It was fun reading about your talk with Vermelle. It's wonderful that she has helped guide you and inform you about things that were true when she was a little girl.

I'm glad your story is getting closer to being published! I look forward to its publication day.

Never Give Up

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Joan, for sharing this post and your encouragement. Yes, we are friends!!

Melodye said...

What a beautiful friendship you've developed! So magical, the ways books help bring us together!

sheri levy said...

Wonderful post, Carol. Yes, research is so needed in any story to keep it accurate, but a historical novel needs to be factual. You've done a great shop with your research and keeping your story true! Can't wait to read it!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks Sheri and Melodye. Glad you enjoyed the post.

Linda A. said...

This was a delightful post in every way!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks so much, Linda!

Joyce Moyer Hostetter said...

Thanks so much for the book. I am excited and feel a little overwhelmed to have won twice so close together! But such great books!

I love reading about how you have tracked down these experts and now that I am reading the manuscript it is so cool to make the connections between your story and what you are learning from them. You've done some amazing research!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Joyce. Yes, you have the inside track of Half Truths!

Rosi said...

Congrats to Joyce! What a fun and interesting post. It's amazing to me every time I read about people serving their country being treated so poorly. Thanks for sharing this. It's great you've found such sharing people to help you with this story.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Rosi. Next time I see Vermelle I'll read her this blog and I'm sure she'll enjoy your comment. She was a teacher for many, many years and truly did serve.

Bonnie J. Doerr said...

Half-Truth's journey to publication is a fabulous story in itself. Thank you for sharing so much of your research. These personal experiences have to have been life-enriching for you.

Carol Baldwin said...

That is so kind of you, Bonnie. And yes--VERY life enriching. You're right!

sarahsbookreflections.com said...

Wow,Carol, I can hardly wait to read your book. It sounds fascinating, but I'm little confused about Vermelle's genetic heritage. You said her grandfather was from England and her grandmother was Native American, which most decidedly would have her be discriminated against, but why was her family considered African-American? Keep up the good work.

Carol Baldwin said...

I know, I have some questions about Vermelle's heritage also, Sarah. These where her maternal great-grandparents. I'm almost postitive both of her parents were African American. Next time I talk to her I'll find out specifically and get back to you. Good question!

Clara Gillow Clark said...

I loved your interview with Vermelle. These stories are so important and must be told again and again, lest we forget.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Clara. I guess that's why you and I love historical fiction!!

Kathleen said...

Carol, I'm catching up on my reading and I just love this post! How wonderful that you could read some of your manuscript to her. I know the joy of having a person who is one of your sources to say you described something acurately in your writing! Her story and pictures are so fascinating. Thank you for sharing!!

Carol Baldwin said...

Glad you enjoyed this interview, Kathleen.