A unique aspect of our Book Club Collection here at the Commission is our focus on Nebraska authors, settings, and stories, housing the hidden gems of Nebraska literature and history! Today’s pick for the Book Club Spotlight, in particular, focuses on a relatively unknown part of Nebraska’s Black History. While we know the story of white pioneers and homesteaders, there was also the incredible journey of formerly enslaved people who became landowners, farmers, and a community in the Sandhills. Hector’s Bliss: Black Homesteaders at Goose Lake, Nebraska, by Dennis Vossberg, is a historical fiction novel based on the incredible history of Black Homesteaders, who, under false pretenses, persevered in the harsh farmland until drought and the Dust Bowl overcame the whole region.
In the late 1800s, at the height of legalized racial segregation, just south of O’Neil, Nebraska, there was the short-lived story of Bliss, and the Black community members who called it home. During the economic downturn caused by the end of the Civil War, the newly freed people were looking for a reliable place to land. As newly married Hector and Julia Dixon were floundering in a small mining town, land promoters arrived, falsely promising flourishing farmland and untapped coal veins awaited them in the far reaches of the Nebraska Sandhills. The Dixons and 13 other families unknowingly move to the desert-like plains to start anew. Besought by harsh conditions, poverty, and rural isolation, their community works hard to create a solid foundation for the future despite the conditions. As one of the more educated residents, Hector Dixon finds himself wearing many hats in Bliss, as a farmer, the integrated school’s teacher, the justice of the peace, and eventually a milk road delivery man, all to support his growing and tenacious family. Striving to find a balance between the life his children dream of and the one he has worked so hard to build.
Hector’s Bliss is a moving historical fiction crafted with love and respect for the subjects, and Book Club Groups will find value in learning about this little-known Nebraska history. They may even be encouraged to learn more. Covered in the Nebraska Public Media story, “Looking for Bliss,” the story of the Dixons and Bliss is virtually unknown. Hector’s Bliss brings to light Black history that has been erased from cultural memory, revealing a more full and beautiful world. We won’t really ever know how the Black Homesteaders were treated by their white compatriots as those details have been lost to time. So, while prejudice and racism are addressed, Vossberg chooses to focus the limited peril on the indomitable human spirit and the life these people worked to build after slavery.
If you’re interested in requesting Hector’s Bliss for your book club, you can find the Request Form here. There are 4 copies available. (A librarian must request items)
Vossberg, Dennis. Hector’s Bliss. Morris Publishing. 2006