Every once in a while the Peace Corps produces a wonderful writer, and one of them is Kevin Lowther (Sierra Leone 1963-65). He is a former PC/HQ staffer, newspaper editor, and student of the agency who has written on African issues for the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor; he is also the coauthor of Keeping Kennedy’s Promise: The Peace Corps,Unmet Hope of the New Frontier, published in 1978.
I first met Kevin through the Volunteer in-country newsletter he edited while a PCV in Sierra Leone. I believe the newsletter was called The Tilley Lamp, and it would arrive (for some unknown reason!) in the Peace Corps Office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It was well written, informative, funny, and the best PCV newsletter produced during those early years of the agency.
Now he has a new book The African American Odyssey of John Kizell: A South Carolina Slave Returns to Fight the Slave Trade in His African Homeland. (Kevin does believe in long titles, doesn’t he?) The book is being published by the University of South Carolina Press.
It is the true story of a Sierra Leonean who survived slavery in South Carolina, joined the British during the Revolution and managed to return to his homeland. He spent much of his remaining years trying to get his people to stop trading in slaves. He also played a role in the early stages of the colonization of African Americans in West Africa. He was literate and left behind a body of material which, incredibly, has gone begging among historians for 200 years.
In his Preface, Kevin writes, “Researching and writing this book has brought me full circle to September 1963, when I arrived in Sierra Leone as a Peace Corps volunteer to teach history at a Freetown secondary school. I had been a history major in college but knew nothing of Africa, not to mention African American history. I owe my subsequent reeducation to many: my former students in Sierra Leone, Africans from all parts of the continent, and African Americans too numerous to name. I owe a special debt to John Kizell and to the remarkable life he lived.”
Well, and we owe a special debt to Kevin for writing this book.