The Self-Liberation of Parson Sykes is a trilogy that profiles Private Parson Sykes' evolution from enslavement in Southampton County, Virginia, followed by his enlistment into the Union Army, and culminating with his emancipation and return to the county. The first novel in the trilogy, subtitled Enslavement in Southampton County, Virginia, takes place in 1864 near the end of the American Civil War on the slave-holding Jacob Williams' middle class family farm in Southampton County Virginia. During the Southampton Insurrection, the farm came under attack by Nat Turner and his insurgents, which haunts Jacob. Before the Civil War started, Parson began discussing human rights and political implications of the abolition of slavery with his two brothers. In December 1864, he planned to liberate himself by running away from Jacob Williams' farm and following an eastward path along the Seaboard and Roanoke Railroad to reach Norfolk Virginia, which was a Union occupied city.
In 1864, the Confederate government still bound Black people to chattel slavery, existing without rights, solely to serve the political, economic, and social benefits of the slaveholders. Early in 1861, before the Civil War started, Parson began discussing human rights and political implications of the abolition of slavery with his two brothers and a confidante, Henry Charity. Parson knew President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation, that declared, effective January 1, 1863, as freed enslaved people only in areas in rebellion against the United States and provided for the enlistment of Black men.
The Self-Liberation of Parson Sykes also functions to draw attention to the important role Black soldiers played during the Civil War as members of United States Colored Troops (USCT). In May 1863, the United States established the Bureau of Colored Troops to manage the burgeoning numbers of Black soldiers who laid the path from contraband status to gallant and feared warriors during the Civil War. The Self-Liberation of Parson Sykes details how the Union Army XXV Corps, composed entirely of the USCT regiments, came into existence. When Richmond, Virginia fell on April 2, 1865, Black soldiers of the XXV Corps of the Army of the James were among the first Union troops to occupy the city on the following day. Though less heralded, the USCT regiments were the precursors to Black units famously nicknamed as the Buffalo Soldiers, Tuskegee Airmen, the Harlem Hell Fighters, and the Red Ball Express.
As a moral issue, slavery denied human rights based on the diversity of races and religions. Parson's emerging understanding of human rights helped him to envision a new future and life after emancipation. He found discarded railroad maps, abolition pamphlets, and sectional periodicals very helpful in planning his liberation quest. In his haven, he risked life and limb to guard and protect his collection of documents about freedom, abolitionists, resistance, and humanity. Parson grasped the injustice of his enslavement and felt called to react against slavery for no other reason than to gain his freedom. He learned enslaved African descendants had always desired freedom and self-liberation was his best method to gain it. The cruel treatment he received from Jacob varied, but the laws in Virginia left enslaved people without defense or recourse. Virginia relied on slavery heavily for economic prosperity and used wealth to justify enslavement practices.
After darkness on in December 3,1864, the brothers started Parson's escape plan east toward Fort Norfolk. The brothers ran individually through the stacks of peanuts in the field, into the forest to reach Parson's haven, an abandoned shanty from the Nat Turner insurrection era. They seized the needed provisions, carpentry tools, network maps and other equipment and quickly change clothes, assumed alias names, and continued their trip east to Norfolk. Near the demarcation of Southampton and the Union line in Suffol