Couched in the drama of the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, the residents of Pilotville, Louisiana, consider themselves far removed from the travails of other black/white communities, where Jim Crow dictates the social constrictions in an environment ruled by the power structure of the haves versus the have-nots.
Pilotville takes its name from the services provided to the Mississippi River traffic, the whites controlling the boats and the blacks doing whatever other jobs remain to support the town’s endeavors. Papa DeGroot founded the Pilotville Negro Infirmary in 1894, ostensibly to provide medical care for the black residents of the town, always there to offer a word of encouragement and a helping hand.
Then along comes the Reverend Hale Poser, an orphaned, blue-eyed black man in search of his past, with gentle ways and a deep love of God in his heart. Poser takes a job at the Negro Infirmary, eschewing the title of reverend, happy to be of service to those less fortunate. He comes to the aid of a woman in difficulty birthing her child, and it is soon rumored that Hale has healing hands when baby Hannah is brought safely into the world without the assistance of the drunken white doctor’s surgery.
Even as the town rejoices in Hannah’s safe delivery, the unimaginable occurs and Pilotville is thrown into chaos, white and black uniting in common effort for a time. In service of the distraught parents, Hale undertakes a journey into the swamps that will gradually reveal the terrible darkness of man’s inhumanity to man as Hale is thrown into a deep moral crisis, challenging his faith in himself, the world at large and his God. As is his nature, Hale will turn adversity into revelation, bridging two worlds with one heart, an instrument of change more far-reaching than even he can imagine.
Dickson pens a powerful parable of dark and light, all set against the flood that demolished the shores of the great Mississippi, leaving behind such devastation as would not visit this region again for a hundred years. Reaching beyond the obvious conflicts of class and race, Dickson exposes the evil that lurks in the hearts of men who seek profit from the helpless, exploitation the coin of their realm without thought to the consequences for those caught in the web of a terrible deceit.
Mining the deepest chambers of human understanding, the author questions the moral compass of the residents of Pilotville, their religious beliefs but a mask for underlying prejudices that facilitate lives both separate and unengaged. Indeed, the reader may find reason for reflection as well in this simple, yet profound statement on the nature loss, redemption and the territory in between.