By Izzy Wallace
After decades of work, Normandy Park authors Duane and Loretta Johnson have finished their book, Bridge of Demarcation – An Atlanta Odyssey.
The story is made up of 237 pages – 20 chapters, a prologue, and an epilogue.
It depicts the true story of Duane Johnson, who was the sole white student attending Atlanta University, a black university at the time, from 1967-68.
Alongside this, real letters that he had sent to Loretta Johnson are shown throughout the book. They follow the story of the two drawing closer together during this time, and show in Duane Johnson’s own words, his growing realization of racism and inner conflictions at the time.
“I discovered all these love letters that I didn’t even look at for 50 years,” Loretta Johnson said. “I think that the letters are not only a good love story, but that they really show his emotions that were pronounced in them.”
Duane Johnson had started the book a long time ago, but it was put on pause for a while.
“My husband had started writing it in 1996, and he had gone back to Atlanta to do more research. He knew a man from the Washington Post, who knew Spike Lee, who expressed interest … but then turned him down,” she said. “He got discouraged.”
But after she had more experience writing, and a bit more time, Loretta Johnson encouraged her husband to continue the project alongside her.
“I had written a book in 2017 … I had retired, and I said, we need to finish this story,” she said.
Between this, finding the letters her husband had sent her, and the racial matters being brought up through the Black Lives Matter movement, Loretta Johnson was set on helping him finish the novel.
“During the height of Black Lives Matter, it was interesting how some of the things he had said really showed some of the issues the world was still going through today,” she said. “It made me realize that a lot of things have changed, but a lot of things are the same – police brutality, unarmed black students being shot. I just really felt we needed to get this story out.”
Through the novel, you’re able to see Duane Johnson’s perspective shift regarding his internalized racism, and racism in the world around him.
“It really came to the point where he learned about his own racism,” Loretta Johnson said. “He came from a very naïve background, raised in Montana, where there were maybe a dozen black people in the area total.”
This especially comes to a height on April 4, 1968 – the day Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.
“He was there when MLK was assassinated,” Loretta Johnson said. “He was in class.”
The book describes the anguish, depression, and anger Duane Johnson had felt amongst his classmates, and within himself, during this time. It also touches on the polarizing emotions towards rioting and marching following MLK Jr.’s death.
Though racism can be a very heavy topic, the story’s core is centered around change.
“The reader hopefully will get that this has been going on for a long time,” Loretta Johnson said. “And yet, there are things we can do to change that.”
An excerpt from the book reads, “Calls for Black Lives Matter and continued concerns about racism are still being felt in 2020 … Diversity and how people of different races relate, remain topics of interest not just for governmental agencies, academicians and educational administrators, but also for everyone from CEOs to the first-line supervisors.”
If you’re interested in purchasing and reading the book, you can do so at https://store.bookbaby.com/book/Bridge-of-Demarcation–An-Atlanta-Odyssey.
You can also receive 15 percent off, with the code “FRIEND” at checkout.
Izzy Wallace is a graduate from Highline College, where she got her AA in Multimedia, and her BAS in Integrated Design. She had previously worked at Highline’s Thunderword newspaper for several years as Editor-in-Chief. You can send her ideas for news stories, or photos of your dogs, at [email protected].