Southern Phoenix (Fiction) Library of Congress catalog

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The Southern Phoenix, great historical fiction by Rosemary Jenkins

The Southern Phoenix is a tale about the Black experience in the Deep South. This historical fiction novel introduces the sit-ins in Alabama, the 1965 riots in Watts, fair housing issues, and scenes–poignant, joyous, riveting, and sad–portraying what life was really like for the Black population during the decades of the mid-20th century.

The Southern Phoenix is an historical fiction novel by Rosemary Jenkins.


The Southern Phoenix captures the ambiance of the South during this critical period of American history. The dialogue is authentic. The characters are people to whom we can relate.  It is a must-read for lovers of historical fiction.

Dick Price, Co-founder,

I was blown away by The Southern Phoenix. Her imagery, honesty, and insights make this book worth reading again and again.

George Christopher Thomas, Founder/Editor, Van Nuys News Press

Rosemary made the story reflect what it was like to live in the Deep South in those days.  I hope many people get to read it because not enough young people, let alone adults, truly comprehend what the Civil Rights struggles were all about and how difficult it was to live down South during those days.  The protagonist succeeded, despite all odds, and at the same time, he gave back—good modeling for all of us.

 Virginia Capers, Tony-Award Winning Actress

The Southern Phoenix frames a sacred time and place in the history of our nation.  It will touch any reader open to the transformative gift of culture in the lives of our children.  I highly recommend it for middle and high school readers–though anyone seeking to understand the complex tensions of race and diversity will benefit and enjoy reading this thoughtful novel.

José Velásquez, Principal, Los Angeles Unified School District

The Southern Phoenix is a real page turner. I tried to stop myself from reading ahead. And of course, you know, a big surprise was waiting.

Lynette Stafford, The Magical StoryBook Lady

This is a touching and beautiful story. If is full of the rich textures of the people in it. You feel for them and with them… The old lady telling the story moved me many time during my reading.

Lee Wells, Author

Rich material.  An excellent story.  Nice touches!  Dramatic, fascinating, terrifying, compelling. Wow!

Alan Armer, Movie Producer

The book displays an excellent grasp of real-life situations and how normal individuals behave.  Its charm  lies in the extraordinary acts that these average individuals perform.  Ba’ Bro’ and his mother Leona Mae emerge as true heroes because THEY PERSEVERE THROUGH situations that we as readers can relate to, and have in some degree probably experienced ourselves.  

Craig Knizek, Reader for Grand Central Productions

Ba’ Bro’ is a believable, character who lives in an interesting world. The author sustained this community—and the reader’s interest—all the way through.

Guy Kettlehack, formerly with Howard Buck Agency

I was greatly moved by the story, the characters, the writing style and the sense of The Southern Phoenix. It would be a natural for a television mini-series. It manages to convey dramatically both the facts and the feelings of people caught up in the major civil rights struggle of our times.

Fern Seizer, former Executive Director, Fair Housing Council, San Fernando Valley

Easy reading; fast-moving.  The account of Sandoval lunch counter sit-ins were good, suspenseful and kept me reading furiously!  Noted the excellent use of language from early crude to later refined. Felt like saying, “Rah!” to house purchase. It should be required re-reading every 5 years to remind us of what was. . .

Ray Crisp, former HUD and VP of Fair Housing Council Executive, San Fernando Valley

I began reading it while sitting in the “ortho” waiting room and by the time (my daughter) came out, I had already shed a few tears.  I find the book compelling and compassionate.  I couldn’t wait to get finish it.

Helen Bond, Educator

LA Sentinil Newspaper Review:

San Quentin News Book Review:

Chapter 1


“Udeka Yawfe? Now, jus’ what kindova name is that?” Miss Mae Emma asked the little boy in her inimitable way, not really expecting an answer. She grabbed him up in her arms and tossed him on her knees and then squeezed him until he nearly lost his breath. Then she laid a big kiss on his cheek.

“That reminds me of the time I went to kiss that sweet, li’l John David. Did I ever tell you ‘bout that?” No, he nodded and looked up at her with big, expectant eyes. He did so love to hear the story she was about to tell. He must have heard it at least 250 times. It always made him bust his sides laughing. “He came in all dusty from the fields one time to cool hisself with some o’ my chunky, ice-cold buttermilk. I grabbed that tank of a boy over to me and kissed his chubby li’l cheek. Well, he was too big for that and slapped me right on my face. Eh eh eh…

18 thoughts on “Southern Phoenix (Fiction)

  1. I read the Amazon preview for this title yesterday. I was immediately drawn into the story. Can’t wait to read the book in its entirety.


  2. *****
    N. Canoon September 2, 2017
    Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase

    Rosemary Jenkins has captured a true picture of the struggles of this time. She created authentic characters that have become real on these pages and in our minds. For those who were not around, it will help explain the ethos of those times and will remind those who were there of the strife, the defeats, and the triumphs that were experienced then and the relevance to today’s events. Highly recommended read!


  3. THE SOUTHERN PHOENIX: Review by a young correspondent, AAF, California State Prison:

    I was thoroughly impressed by The Southern Phoenix by Rosemary Jenkins. Her style evokes every emotion in the reader–from happiness to anger to sadness to empathy and nostalgia. The story was absolutely touching, motivating, and informative. The language took me some time to get used to at first, because of the challenge which comes with understanding an accurate Southern accent, but once I was able to grasp the inflections of Miss Mae Emma, I had a much smoother time at reading the book. The scene of Miss Mae Emma talking with Udeka Yawfe brings back memories of my grandmother who would stay up with me long into the night, telling stories about her childhood in Alabama. Ba’ Bro’s life is the classic story of a man whose suffering and hardships turned him into a successful man. One of the most touching parts of the book is Ba’ Bro’s emotional eulogy for his friend. I like how Ms. Jenkins was able to relate relevant social themes by having an adult speak to a child in simple enough terms so that the child (any child) can understand without insulting a child’s intelligence. The very fact that an adult is having such heavy conversations with such a young person is evidence of the respect that all adults should show towards young people. This book is a good read for everybody so I highly recommend it!


  4. Review by Juan Moreno Haines, Senior Editor of
    The San Quentin News for the book,
    THE SOUTHERN PHOENIX by Rosemary Jenkins

    The Southern Phoenix, written by Rosemary Jenkins, is the perfect book to read during Black History Month. By linking fictional characters to real-life civil rights events, Jenkins insightfully recreates the Black experience in mid-century America.

    This historical novel, published last year, provides readers with a vivid portrayal of the post-World War II racial divide in the American South and how it created the civil rights movement. Jenkins depicts iconic events–the 1965 Watts riots, bus and lunch counter sit-ins, the voting rights struggle, the redlining used to support segregated housing–in a way that is both artistic and authentic.

    Jenkins mined her own family’s history to create protagonist John David Johnson, and it is through his journey from a poor Southern boy to a mature, determined civil rights attorney in Los Angeles that Jenkins also tells the story of the times.

    A big part of that story was migration. During the middle parts of the 20th century, thousands of Black families moved out of the South in search of a better life. This was called The Great Migration, and the reader experiences it though John David’s eyes as he heads West.

    John David describes his culture shock when he moved out of the American South in the late to mid-1950s and landed in Los Angeles with its newly built spiraling freeways: “I had never even heard of a freeway, let alone ridden on one! Just imagine you waking up one morning and taking a ride with the Jetsons?!”

    John David’s experience reminded me of the culture shock I experienced when I joined the Army in the mid-1970s and shipped from San Diego to Ft. Jackson in Columbia, S. C. Whereas John David was exposed for the first time to the dazzle of futuristic, sprawling freeways of California, I was exposed for the first time to the profound way separation had determined our cultural and racial divide.

    My guide for this experience was Carl Finklea, a young Black man from Augusta, GA., whom I met when I arrived in South Carolina. On our weekend passes, he took me to his modest home and demonstrated Southern hospitality. I was astounded by the nurturing culture of the Black community–the respectful language, the open affection, and the sense of intimacy. What stood out for me the most, however, was the geography of racism–I learned that living on the other side of the railroad tracks was not just an expression. It was a de facto reality for Black people.

    After the military was integrated and Blacks and Whites served together, many Blacks believed that life would be different when they returned home. They believed that they would be entitled to live on any side of the railroad tracks they chose. They were wrong.

    In the book, Jenkins rails against the treatment of Blacks after they returned home from military service. “Many of them had fought side-by-side during World War II or the Korean Conflict. And yet, back home, as adults, they were supposed to hate each other. You couldn’t analyze it; it wasn’t subject to scrutiny because there was never much sense to it–something that had always been.”

    Jenkins’ understanding and her portrayal of what separation does to human beings resonated with me as an incarcerated person. “When Society keeps groups of people separate, many people begin to think bad things about other people, simply because of what they have heard about but have never really experienced for themselves. And then they begin to fear the unknown.”

    She explains how we construct stereotypes and then cling to them tenaciously, “. . . we create. . . images that are derived from inaccurate and misleading information, from myths which have no foundation and what do we do with these images. We build up barriers between people, walls that are hard to break down, divisions grow worse as fears multiply.”

    This willingness to separate humans into categories is precisely what led to the high incarceration rate in the U. S. and it connects to the civil rights struggle. Both phenomena are rooted in a false security that separation brings. This separation is fueled by institutional power structures that use fear in order to create social policies that fail to respect the human dignity/rights of the least powerful.


  5. “The Southern Phoenix” is a great read. It’s a rare first person narrative written in southern dialogue which is easy to follow. The main character ‘Ba Bro’ is intriguing. He ran away from his home in rural Alabama during perilous times for Blacks. The narrator didn’t spare any details. White men were vicious. The challenges were grave. But, the fruits of the main character’s labor was over the top. Reminded me of the saying, “Nothing in life good comes easy.” Ba Bro lived, overcame adversaries, and made a big mark! He carved a slice of “Social Justice” in the middle of the road and everybody witnessed the phoenix rise!


  6. “The Southern Phoenix” is a literary treasure. The main character Ba. Bro’ is the perfect example of “climbing up the ladder by one’s boat straps.” He left the south stowed away on a wagon avoiding the unofficial punitive action of a mob of white men, settled in California, and rose like a southern PHOENIX. The book read more like a memoir than historical fiction. If it wasn’t real, it was reality.

    Book Worm


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