Writing the Story:
It was not an easy road for Salter Johnson to write her family’s history, even before her idea grew to include other Black families, and even though she had long been interested in writing it.
“Of course, I knew and lived this history, and I was always interested in it. However, my first attempt at writing was in 1990,” said Salter Johnson. “I attempted to tell the ‘engaging story of my decade’s long search for the origin of my family,’ by identifying the original slave-holding family and documenting the oral histories of the descendants of that family. However, I was unable to compose the story or communicate my thoughts. In the attempt, the illuminating events and stories that so urgently needed to be told were not well-written, and it was strongly recommended that I take some writing courses.
“My writing class instructor validated my story telling abilities, but he said that good story telling does not automatically determine writing ability. Somewhat deflated, I joined a story telling society. I learned a lot from that group, and I continue to write because of what I learned from that interaction.
“I learned to listen to my own words and thoughts and write them down. I still think of myself as a storyteller, a narrator, who deals in true stories. I don’t invent anything. I use material from primary sources when possible and secondary sources when necessary. I consulted other historians’ ideas about a particular time period. And then [I would] link together all the bits of information.”
Salter Johnson still wants to write the story she started. “I was in the process of writing a book about my family history when I got the idea for these books,” she points out. “Also, I would like to write a children’s book on the ‘The Wheelock Family,’ the second Black family to settle in Stephenson County. Three of the Wheelock children were the first, second and third - black children born in Freeport Illinois.”