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One Night in Georgia: 12/09/19

One Night in Georgia

One Night in Georgia by Celeste O. Norfleet is a historical novel set in 1968 during a road trip from Harlem to Atlanta. Zelda Livingston, tired of being at home with her mother and new stepfather, agrees to let her two college chums drive her down to Atlanta even with her reservations. She's concerned about Veronica's cherry red sports car and how safe driving through the South will be like.

Veronica and Daphne (who with her light skins passes as white) tell her not to worry and promise to take the most direct route possible. They'll be there in a jiffy. That route would be eight year old I95, the longest interstate, which connects Florida to Maine.

If the promised route were taken, this book would be very different. As promised, the novel would have been a 660000 or marginalized travelers going to the city via the interstate. Because, though, Veronica and Daphne believe too wholeheartedly in the stories that desegregation has fixed everything, they stray from the path.

Early diversions while problematic don't put them in any actual danger. They manage to save a child's life and they see a town, once completely Black, now integrated, coming to terms with these changes. Later detours, though, lead them into a post-Green Book South where there are no safe guideposts for them. Nor are there smartphones or other ways to remotely check the safety or rest stops, restaurants, motels, etc.

The title, then, refers to their last stop, one that should have been safe, but one that was out of their control due to the sports car needing new hoses and a new water pump. The place is run by the boyfriend of another of their college chums. But the quiet girl they know at college is anything but at home. Her actions combined with those of a jealous boyfriend and two AWOL, racist, drunk privates, leads to a disastrous night.

In terms of the road narrative spectrum, then, the travelers remain the same: marginalized (66). They are so because of the lingering, institutionalized racism they face on their journey. Even with a male chaperone, they are still unsafe, especially among those who will read Daphne as a white woman driving a car full of Black women and a Black man.

As they never make their stated destination by the end of the novel, the destination resets to their last stop, that one fateful night in rural Georgia (33). All the other events have culminated in a night of violence.

Finally the route taken, while it starts on an interstate, it ends on a Blue Highway (33). It is the Blue Highway, cut off from the interstate — the perfect place for racism and White on Black violence to fester unchecked.

Altogether, One Night in Georgia is the tale of four marginalized travelers detouring to rural Georgia via the Blue Highway.

Five stars

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