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Back in time Professor relates African-American history in books

"Lorenzo Pace ASTRID GONZALEZ/THE RIDER

UTRGV Art Professor Lorenzo Pace showcases his family history through his books.

He is well known for his 2001 award-winning children’s book, “Janali and the Lock!” which tells the story of his great-grandfather. The book is based on a family heirloom, a lock that had been used to keep his ancestors in captivity as slaves.

“Jalani and the Lock!” won the Skipping Stones Honor Award after its publication. This led Pace to ask Creative Writing Professor Philip Zwerling if he would collaborate with him in writing a play based on the book.

Pace and Zwerling co-wrote the play, “Locked,” which portrays an African-American family shattered by shame when they discover their relatives were bound by slavery. This inspired Pace to write three other books, “Marching with Martin,” “Harriet Tubman and My Grandmother’s Quilt” and “Frederick Douglass and the North Star,” in which he relates his personal experiences and hardships his great-grandparents faced with monumental figures in the African-American communities. The three books were published as a set in 2014 by Rosen Publishing. Pace said the entire community was inspired when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. came to Chicago, where he was living at the time, to protest against segregation. As a young man, Pace was honored to march with King for a cause that was a stepping-stone for many African-Americans on the road to equality. Coming from a family of 13 in Alabama, Pace witnessed harsh obstacles, especially during winter, that were faced by all African-Americans during his childhood. His mother and grandmother were the inspiration for “Harriet Tubman and My Grandmother’s Quilt.” He connected the abolitionist and humanitarian Harriet Tubman, his grandmother and his mother’s quilt patterns to the Underground Railroad, illustrating the important role they played in helping slaves find a route North.

“I didn’t know at the time but it was said that the patterns sewn into the quilts during the slavery times were used as guides on the Underground Railroads, so all the patterns you see in the quilts is for a reason,” Pace said. Pace said he has 25 of the quilts he is considering donating to the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is scheduled to open in Washington, D.C., next year. It will be the 19th museum to open as part of the Smithsonian Institution. Growing up, Pace said, he would see his school walls and classrooms decorated with photos of Frederick Douglass, an abolitionist and statesman, so that children would honor and respect him for everything he had done to help African-Americans gain their freedom. Those memories were his inspiration for writing “Frederick Douglass and the North Star.”

“Frederick Douglass was the heart and inspiration for African-American communities to educate themselves,” the Alabama native said. “That’s why school is so important for us, and my dad embedded that in our minds, because if Frederick Douglass could do it, any of us could do it also. He was a beacon of light during these difficult times and till this day, we’re still working on moving forward to provide change and acceptance all around.”

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