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Comments from the Editor

Completed in late 1963 by novelist Richard M. Baker, Jr., Promise of the North barely preceded the final passage of the United States Civil Rights Act of 1964; a defining moment in US racial and gender history that outlawed major forms of discrimination, including segregation. The timing of Promise of the North couldn’t have been more appropriate, for Baker heralded his work as a “protest” novel, and dropped it at the doorstep of a federally-legislated equality movement that has since gripped the country.

Here, the author places a young, determined, married black couple from Washington, D.C. in Baker’s home state of Maine at a time before black migration, thus, in a place where issues of racial integration had yet to be fully addressed.

One might question how white, Maine-bred author Baker could credibly address racial inequalities and present the face of discrimination from his position of cultural isolationism. The answer -- validated by several well-researched novels of social and cultural literature -- is a credit to the brilliant, sensitive, imaginative mind and recognized style of the author. In Promise of the North, Baker plucked two emotionally distraught, determined blacks from an inner-city ghetto and dropped them in the supposedly promised-land of peaceful coexistence in unaffected Portland, Maine. Influenced by current political and social events, and shaped by the opinions, perceptions and behaviors of social contacts, Baker was sensitized to an imaginative view of what it would be like to drift into a closed culture.

Promise of the North uncovers important and unfortunate truisms of racism, among them, fear, unfamiliarity, and ethnic stereotyping. The good-hearted Jacksons are challenged at every turn by habitually offensive practices that, for lack of direct cultural engagement if nothing else, hadn’t changed much in a hundred years. The North may have won the Civil War and signaled its moral promise with the Emancipation Proclamation, but remnants of the black/white cultural divide in the far North were conveniently surrendered to its seclusion.

Promise of the North is significant for this very reason. The novel dispenses lasting pain by demonstrating that the wounded bee of racism retains its sting after a century of institutional dormancy. Indeed, Promise of the North awakens the memory to blind holdouts of segregation - paradoxically, in a land where statues were erected to those who died in the name of abolition, equality and union.

Promise of the North delivers a potent, thrilling and modern-day essay on multiculturalism, providing an ever-lasting marker on the personal origins of anti-racial behavior despite long-standing political and societal rejection of intolerance.