|"He Woke in Darkness"|
|Publication date||August, 2005|
"He Woke in Darkness" (Asimov's August, 2005; Reincarnations, Capclave, 2009) is a short story by Harry Turtledove. It's difficult to define in terms of genre, as it uses elements of alternate history to tell a broader horror story. The story mirrors the murders of three civil rights workers in Mississippi in 1964; two white men, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, and a black man, James Chaney, were lynched in Meridian, Mississippi by members of the Ku Klux Klan, with the complicity of local law enforcement.
Turtledove's story posits a world where the roles of the races are reversed: blacks dominate in Mississippi, and oppress whites. The story is told from the perspective of Cecil Price, and white Mississipian, who is traveling through Meridian with two black members of the Nation of Islam who hail from the North. Much as in the real event, Price and his companions are arrested by a deputy sheriff (a virulently racist black man), held for a time without contact to the outside world, and then released. They are soon waylaid by members of a black supremacist group, the "Black Knights of Voodoo", and then murdered, with Price being beaten horribly, shot (although not fatally), and then buried alive.
However, here Turtledove throws the reader a curveball, by having Price awaken in his own bed in OTL, just after being buried alive; the whole series of events was just a nightmare.
In truth, the historical Price, a member of the KKK, was the deputy who initially arrested Goodman, Schwerner and Cheney, and then arranged for their ambush and murder. While Price was never charged with the murders in Mississippi, he was convicted of a Federal charge of conspiracy to violate their civil rights in 1967, and served four years of a six-year sentence. He died in 2001 after a fall.
Turtledove's story posits that Price was plagued with the nightmare of the murders for the rest of his life, and hints the other men responsible for the murders were as well. Arguably, Turtledove engages in a form of wish fulfillment by having Price face what might be a worse punishment than anything he faced in real life.
In the alternate of The Disunited States of America, Mississippi is an independent nation-state where, unlike other former slave-holding countries, blacks had successfully revolted in the 1970s, dominating the country and creating an oppressive hierarchy that disenfranchised whites.