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‘Eagle’ When She Flies

She’s soaring to new heights

A lifelong writer, journalist, and civil rights activist, Patricia Brooks Eldridge ’60 spent the summer of 1964 traveling through the South with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. More than 50 years later, on an island off Washington state beyond the noise and speed of the mainland, she found herself despairing about the state of race relations.

“I was a mess because everything was being undone and the situation was getting worse,” she says.

Then the winter 2015 Bulletin arrived. On the cover was Maurice Eldridge ’61, a longtime vice president of the College and her undergrad contemporary. Though she’d barely known him then, 55 years later she was eager to reconnect.

When she wrote to him, she learned that his wife had died a few years before and that he was still mourning.

“I thought that said a lot about his ability to love deeply,” she says.

Following an intense correspondence and his visit to her island, she moved to Swarthmore, where the couple were married in June 2016—a date chosen so all their grandchildren could be part of the ceremony.

“If you trust your instincts and are brave enough,” Brooks Eldridge says, “amazing things can happen.”

The same is true on the page: She’s spent decades researching and writing a young adult series, Eagle and Child, visiting historical sites and scouring archival documents. The first novel in the series—published in November—opens in 1823, with 12-year-old Devon surviving the London influenza epidemic that killed her entire family. A kind doctor takes her in but soon becomes ill himself, leaving Devon with little protection from a sexual predator named Newgate. Ultimately, her only escape is to cross the Atlantic to become an indentured servant.

Upon her arrival in Charleston, S.C., Devon observes the brutal treatment of slaves.

“That sight of slavery will not be her last,” Brooks Eldridge says. “Devon serves the bulk of her indenture on an upcountry farm as the only white servant among a community of blacks—they’ve earned their freedom but are trapped on the farm because to leave it is to risk re-enslavement by the notorious ‘slave catchers.’”

The remainder of the series finds Devon agitating for the abolition of slavery and the rights of women and workers, in alliance with Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and Frances Wright.

“Slaves and indentured servants were often held in much the same conditions until the rich planters became too afraid of the black slaves they’d outnumbered themselves with,” Brooks Eldridge says. “To keep them apart, they raised the status of poor whites to form a buffer class, concocting the myth of African inferiority and dangerous nature. Hasn’t it worked just great to this day?”

Brooks Eldridge begins the Eagle and Child series with this quote from the Black Renaissance writer and photographer John van der Zee: “We are, in fact, as Americans, the descendants of bound people, tied now by that binding in ways we have forgotten, which it would serve us well to remember.”

“That, in a nutshell, is why I wrote the series,” she says. “I’ve spent my life trying to get people to understand how much we have in common and how much we need to work together.”