The 76-year-old author of a provocative new novel about 1950s racism in the American South says his concern for "better understanding" among those of the younger generations made him feel obligated to write the book.
"People who didn't live through events of that time can't fully comprehend the progress we've made because they don't know how bad it used to be," said Robert Hays, a UI professor emeritus of journalism whose fourth novel, "Blood on the Roses," offers an unvarnished view of the malevolent extremes to which intolerance can lead.
Hays, who retired in 2008, said his students in recent years, although "among the best and brightest of their generation," knew little about the struggles for racial equality that took place in the South in the 1950s and '60s.
"I love the South," he said, "but as a white man who witnessed the evils of racial segregation first-hand, I felt it was my duty to help make sure that this dark period in American history is not forgotten."
The novel tells the story of Rachel Feigen, a reporter sent to Tennessee on a missing person story. She gets caught up in the bigotry she expected to observe as an outsider when three local extremists decide to teach her a lesson for poking around in things that are none of her business.
Hays is the author of a number of books, both fiction and nonfiction, including "G-2: Intelligence for Patton," a collaboration with Gen. Oscar Koch published in 1971 and still in print. That book has become a standard reference for military historians.
His three earlier novels, also published by Vanilla Heart, are "The Life and Death of Lizzie Morris," which was nominated for the 2009 Pushcart Prize literary award; "Circles in the Water"; and "The Baby River Angel."