Die Free: A Heroic Family History


 

Die Free: A Heroic Family History

Author: Cheryl Willis

 

 

Clarence Willis had little or no regard for his life and the family that he would soon leave behind. Worried about his motorcycle buddies, the pranks and stunts they encouraged him and others to attempt, Clarence Willis ended his life in less than a grand fashion. Legacy’s are important and imagine finding your great great great grandfather and his tragic past while playing around on Google in 2009. Uncovering the history of Sandy Willis and his shocking and astounding past, being sold into slavery and his service during the Civil War, author, reporter and journalist Cheryl Willis takes on a journey back in time to the struggles so many had to endure in order to gain what we have now Their Freedom.

Learning about her father, his recklessness angered Cheryl as she and her four brothers and sisters were now left without a father.  A decorated firefighter in the NYC fire department, Clarence Willis never new that the qualities he possessed were inherited from Sandy Willis a slave. Brave, filled with courage risking his life for his family let’s go back in time and meet this amazing man and understand why his story needed to be told. Let’s meet both Sandy and Clarence and learn about them and present their stories to everyone. Two men: One Goal: Freedom: But so different in their definitions of the word. Clarence sought the freedom to explore and try things on his own and Sandy wanted the chains and bonds that tied him to his master lifted. Hear the voices of these two men as author and journalist Cheryl Willis takes you on double ride back in time to learn about these two men whose impact made and still make a difference in her life.

 

As the author relates the story of Sandy Wills you can feel the frustration in her heart as she recounts what happened or might have been his life struggling to free himself from the bonds of his slave master and journey into unknown territory while serving our country during the Civil War. Flashing ahead author Cheryl Wills relates the story of her father, his parents and their struggle to live in what should be a free world devoid of chains and bondage yet filled with other types of prejudice and hate. Blacks were constrained not so much in a physical way but in what the government allowed them to do, how they were treated and where they could socialize, go to church, live and even ride a bus. Lines of demarcation were drawn, lives filled with disappointments and one man named Fred who decided to try and find his way in New York City and whose family suffered at his hand while his wife took the reigns and find her way in the Church and in God. But, that did not end her sadness, her frustration nor Fred’s difficult ways as they lived in New York, her two sons learned many things from their father and life took on a whole new meaning for this family.

Close your eyes- hear the music- can you feel the beat- the strings of their guitars reverberate as the music of Fred and Clarence Wills remains in the mind and hearts of his family. A church filled with mourners, a family divided at times and a 13-year-old girl named Cheryl whose last memory of her father was at his funeral. An account so heart wrenching and profound and vividly described almost as if it is happening over again and you are experiencing it with out author. Take the journey along with this reviewer and celebrate the lives of Clarence, Sandy and Fred Wills and the members of their family as we go back in time to where it all began.

Clarence a firefighter, paratrooper, father, deacon in his Church and often-reckless at times taking risks with his life. This man left many lasting impressions on different people- remember him- 38 years old- one man’s legacy but there is so much more to Die Free as author, journalist and reporter Cheryl Wills shares that very day her father died.

Sandy Wills was her great great great grandfather whose legacy her father would never know and yet their live experiences although during different time periods were not that much different. Sandy was a runaway slave who fought for his freedom and that of others during the Civil War. Hear his story and understand his struggles and the courage of this great man.

One firefighter, Clarence left his family before his time. Cheryl Wills embarks on her journey along with this reviewer back when blacks were slaves on plantations, treated as human property. Owned by Edmund Wills Sandy’s live was devoid of human dignity, the simple comforts of life and lived in filth and squalor. No one should. Along with his brothers this ingenious and smart man devised a plan to escape dreaming of a better life.

Freedom comes in many ways- some during a lifetime, others freed from bondage and some find it in death feeling trapped all of their lives and wanting more than life held. Some men would seek out a path they hoped would give them what they wanted. Slave owners had the power of the bodies of their slaves and controlled their every move. But, no one could erase or control the mind, spirit and determination of Sandy Wills

Flashing between Clarence and Sandy the reader learns how each man dealt with discrimination, hate, defeat and the hardships each endured while struggling and searching for their own freedom. Clarence and his family have to deal with laws that separated whites and blacks on buses, and places they could frequent. Clarence learned early on of the many constraints placed on blacks and rebelled. Reckless, daring and strong willed he sought other solutions for himself rather than remain at home. His father, Fred and mother Opal faced similar struggles as Fred’s behavior was often devoid of feelings and compassions for Clarence and his siblings. At times his father was absent and other times abusive to his mother. Family strife and discord was paramount at times as Fred and Opal had many conflicts taking its toll on their family.

Sandy, however, found freedom by planning his escape enlisting in the army and becoming the first in his family to become an American citizen. His path to freedom can only be appreciate by reading it for yourself and taking the journey along with him and his brothers. Equality means to feel equal having the same advantages as everyone else regardless of race. Both Sandy and Clarence learned hard and fast that this was not to come to pass during their lifetimes.

 

As one man strived for freedom from slavery another entered the army. As Clarence became a paratrooper moving in a positive direction and then returning and become part of the FDNY, we see a man who could have really shied even more than he did. Clarence finally marries his childhood sweetheart, Ruth but his life mirrored his father’s riddled with alcohol, women and deceit. Leaving his family for long periods of time, Clarence was no different than Fred. But, his true passion was his guitar the music he made playing in front of others and his motorcycle and the wrong friends that he made riding.

Life comes full circle as grandfather Fred opens a storefront Church and turns himself around and who our author was so proud of and respected. Wanting him to be proud of her chosen career as a journalist she hoped he got to see her reports firsthand and was proud to share her success with him.

Read this amazing story of three men- Sandy, Clarence and Fred- and two women whose courage and love for their children withstood it all: Opal and Ruth. Hear the music- listen carefully- Hit Play!

Outstanding novel that reminds the reader that prejudice existed during the Civil War, during the 60’s and even today. One great novel, three great stories- rewind the tape- Hear their voices: Press Play!

Fran Lewis: Reviewer

 

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