When people ask me how I wrote my book on Covert, I always have a confession to make— sometimes wish I had decided to be a novelist instead of an historian.
Indeed, I may have avoided visiting Covert that spring in 1994 if I had known that its story would haunt me so profoundly. I have often asked myself why I didn't have the imagination to come up with the story of Covert on my own. If I had, then I would have been able to find a quiet room of my own and write with no interruptions. No extended trips to archives around the country to rummage through files of old documents. No having to stop in the middle of a sentence to double-check old military records to make sure that I had a character's eye color right. No endless hours trying to decipher cramped and blotchy nineteenth-century handwriting. Many times I wished I could just make the stuff up and be done with it. But then I would have missed the chance to sit in the parlor of an old Michigan farmhouse talking to the descendent of a black pioneer of Covert whose family had lived on the same land since the 1860's. I would never have held my breath reading Nancy Seaton's memoir of her dangerous trek from North Carolina to the free states before the Civil War. I would never have wandered the Covert cemetery through the worn gravestones of the black and white pioneers, laid side by side, integrated in death as they had been in life. I would never have felt that rush of excitement when I first read those faded numbers in Covert's voting records revealing Dawson Pompey's extraordinary win of a political position in 1868.
I still remember sitting in the quiet old Covert Museum, weeping, when I realized that the mainly white residents of this struggling frontier community had voted a black man into political office before it was even legal for blacks to vote in Michigan.
I also have to remind myself that even if I had had the imagination to make up Covert, few would have believed me. How clichéd that I should find myself researching a history that was indeed stranger than fiction. Often I have barely believed my own eyes as I have held crumbling documents in my hands that revealed the lengths that Covert's residents went to protect their integrated and equal way of life. Yes, Covert took over my life for far too long. Yes, I hope to never have to read another old handwritten census report again.
Yes, I have had my fill of trips to far-flung archives that proved to be fruitless. But in the end, I am grateful for the story and the people of Covert — they have enriched my life. Yes, I am haunted, but these are good ghosts. May they haunt you too.