The year is 1936, and Ash Kroth, from an old southern family of wealth and political prestige, falls in love with a "Negro" college girl. Thirty years later, as a segregationist governor amidst civil rights turmoil, Ash must confront the consequences of his love for her.
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The Governor’s Sons is a heart thumping account of forbidden love and political ambition in the deep South, a suspenseful tale of romance, deception, racial tension and ultimately, racial reconciliation within the powerful Kroth family.
During the summer of 1936, Ash Kroth, a young law student from a southern family of wealth and political prestige, falls in love with Kitty Wilkes, a beautiful “Negro” college girl.
Nearly thirty years later, as a segregationist governor in the midst of civil rights turmoil, Ash is forced to confront the inevitable consequences of his love for her.
In 1965, Harland Hall, a black Civil Rights leader, moves to the capital city in an effort to quell the racial violence occurring not far from his mother's home. But what mysterious link does this young man have to the Governor’s past?
Part I: Kitty’s Price
Joy Hope, a Small Southern Town
Ash Kroth pushed open the swinging door on his way to the kitchen, but stopped in midstride. Moments earlier, he’d finished his morning run through town and removed his sneakers, leaving them on the sprawling front porch of the family mansion. Then he’d come inside and followed the aroma of ham and biscuits. Ash had been hungry only seconds ago, but now he wasn’t thinking about food at all.
He saw a Negro girl on a step stool, one he’d never seen before. She was a young woman. Ash was 23. She appeared a few years younger, and wore the light blue dress of a domestic. Ash’s gaze lingered on her shapely legs, then worked its way up. Ash’s brother, Heath, handed her a large crystal platter.
The kitchen was large; Heath and the girl were at the opposite end. They hadn’t noticed Ash yet, but as the girl rose on tiptoe, and her dress inched higher, Ash couldn’t help but notice more of her. He strode in a few more paces, still unseen by them.
“Mother likes all the dishes washed the night of her parties, but she doesn’t mind them not being put away ‘til the next day,” Ash heard his brother tell her.
“Is this the last thing we need to put up?” the girl asked. Heath told her it was. “It’s a good thing you and your brother are supposed to do this. Aunt Izolla would probably fall and break her neck trying to reach these cabinets.”
Heath smiled as the girl tucked the platter into place. “Mother’s planning on hiring a new live-in maid, she just hasn’t found one yet that she likes.”
Ash was hot and sweaty from his run and the whirring ceiling fan and open windows did little to relieve the heat from a hot oven inside a hot house in June. Ash ran a hand over his thick auburn hair to smooth it a little, then grabbed a dish towel from the counter to wipe his face and neck.
He glanced down at his gym shorts and tee shirt for a moment, feeling self conscious. But he didn’t need to be spic and span for the new help, and besides, Ash thought, he wouldn’t mind if she saw him with his muscled physique partially exposed.
The girl had had no trouble reaching the high cabinet shelf. Ash guessed her to be around 5’ 4”, but she almost lost her balance after she closed the cabinet door.
“Careful, Catherine.” Heath held out his arms. “Let me help you down from there. We don’t want you getting hurt your first day on the job.”
“Oh, Mr. Heath, I thank you kindly.” The girl, Catherine, placed her hands on Heath’s broad shoulders.
He lifted her from the stool. “You’re light as a feather.” Setting her on the floor, he said, “You hardly weigh a thing.”
“Aren’t you sweet? And I hear you’re smart, too. Aunt Izolla told me you’re a resident at the hospital, in—I think obstetrics. Is that right?”
“Why yes, indeed.” Ash noticed his brother’s chest puff out at Catherine’s flattery.
Instead of hiring poor white girls, Mother preferred genteel Negroes from the respectable colored part of town. And this Catherine was pretty, with large dark eyes that sparkled, and soft looking cocoa brown skin.
“She said your brother’s smart, too.” Catherine smiled sweetly at Heath. “But I bet he’s not half as good looking as you are.”
Heath grinned. “Well, Ash is the runt.”
Ash became jealous of the easy banter between them. Heath was older, bigger and taller than his little brother, and he referred to Ash as wiry. Heath also had a three inch advantage over him that he never tired of pointing out. Ash was slim from running, and muscular with the broad shoulders of a swimmer, but he was only 5’11 ¾”. Despite this, he claimed to be an even 6 feet.
Heath’s frame was broader than Ash’s and at 26, Heath’s brown hair was streaked with premature gray. To the ladies, this hardly diminished his attractiveness; according to some, it only enhanced it.
Izolla, the family cook of over 25 years, said Heath had a kind face, because of his pleasant smile and gentle brown eyes. But she’d accused Ash more than once of having a touch of devilment painted brightly across his countenance.
She’d said that his boyish dimples couldn’t counteract the mischief in his hazel eyes. And “that widow’s peak along with those slightly pointed eyebrows conjures up the very image of Mephistopheles himself!”
Regardless of her smart remarks, Ash considered himself just as good looking as his big brother, as well as a formidable rival in the art of flirting.
“Why’s a pretty girl like you wasting time talking to an old man like him?” Ash smiled, approaching them. “I don’t believe we’ve met.”
Upon seeing him, Catherine smiled, and her eyes widened slightly in what looked like surprise. Ash figured she didn’t find him to be the homely runt she’d expected.
They shook hands while Heath introduced them. “Catherine, meet my little brother, Ash. And Ash, this is Catherine Mae Wilkes, Izolla’s great niece. She and her sister, Betty Jean, are gonna be working here this summer.”
“So, you’re the infamous Mr. Ash. Why, I’m pleased to meet you, sir.”
“Let me guess,” Ash said, “‘infamous,’ according to Izolla?”
“That’s right, sir. Aunt Izolla raves about Mr. Heath, but she says, in her opinion, you’re the devil’s assistant.”
Ash shook his head as a sly smile curled his lips. “Now, Izolla would say that about me, wouldn’t she?”
Catherine gazed back at Heath. “Mr. Heath, does your brother always walk around looking like this?”
Ash looked down at his clothes. Maybe he should have showered and dressed. He hadn’t expected to be made fun of. In his defense he said, “Well, I take exercise every morning by going for a run.”
“These are running clothes.”
Catherine grinned. “Oh. I just thought you just wanted to look like a fool.” Heath had just taken a sip of coffee, but almost spat it out as he laughed. Then Catherine tipped her head and eyed Ash strangely. “So, why is it that you—take exercise?”
“And don’t drink coffee,” Heath said before taking another sip.
Ash felt his cheeks burn. Being ridiculed by Heath was one thing, but he hadn’t expected the new girl to act as his accomplice. “I went to a lecture series on health and nutrition at the YMCA a few years back--it changed my life.”
“So,” Heath said, “he doesn’t eat chocolate cake, banana pie, or anything else that makes life worth living.”
Catherine clicked her tongue. “Now, that’s a shame. Aunt Izolla didn’t tell me he was crazy, too.”
The oven timer buzzed and Ash was thankful the distraction that would spare him further harassment.
Catherine used a red pot holder to take a baking pan from the oven, then placed it atop a hot pad on the counter. With a spatula, she removed a biscuit to a small plate, then gently pried it open with a knife.
“Now, Catherine’s a long name.” Ash frowned. “Can I call you something for short?”
Catherine lifted two slices of fried ham with a fork from a platter, and placed them in the biscuit. “My mama used to call me Cathy. She loved Wuthering Heights. Just like your mama.” When she said this, Catherine smiled at Heath, and he smiled back. “Mr. Heath told me that’s how he got his name, too. But I never liked the sound of Cathy all that much. For something short I like Cat better. Mr. Heathcliff, do you want two biscuits?”
“No, one’s good, Cathy.” Heath winked.
“Yeah, he’s getting pudgy around the middle,” Ash said, resentful of his brother’s Wuthering Heights exchange with her.
“Oh, Mr. Ash,” Catherine admonished, pulling a roll of wax paper from a drawer, “there’s certainly nothing wrong with the way your brother looks!” She tore off a length of wax paper, wrapped the biscuit, and then handed it to Heath.
Ash ignored her comment regarding his brother’s looks. “Cat sounds like an animal to me,” he said. “How about Kitty, can I call you that?”
“That’s a baby animal!” Catherine laughed. “But I’ll tell you what, Mr. Ash, you call me anything you want, as long as it sounds nice.”
“Then Kitty it is.”
Heath glanced at his watch. “I need to eat on the run and get to the hospital.”
“Good,” Ash said, “it’s about time.” He studied Kitty’s face as she put the wax paper back in the drawer. Thick black lashes framed her luminous brown eyes, and her lips were full and sensual. He wondered what it would feel like to kiss them. A light blue bandeau pulled her chin length tresses away from her face. Her hair, a kinky curly mass, appeared luxuriantly soft and puffy. Ash felt almost compelled to touch it.
Kitty looked toward Heath as he started to leave. “You have a good day, now, Mr. Heath.”
“Thanks, Catherine. You do the same.” As he walked out the back door at the rear of the kitchen, he yelled over his shoulder, “See you later, runt!”
Kitty tried not to laugh but couldn’t help it. “I’m sorry, Mr. Ash.”
“Shucks.” Ash smirked, and his eyes dropped to the floor. “Go ahead, laugh all you want.” Gazing at Kitty again, his smirk widened to a smile, then he propped himself against the counter next to her. “So, Miss Kitty Mae Wilkes, tell me about yourself.”
“There’s not really much to tell. I’m at Maretta University, the colored school over in Cherrywood. So’s my older sister, Betty Jean.” Kitty opened a large metal pot simmering on the back of the stove with the pot holder. After the steam escaped she stirred the hot grits inside with a wooden spoon. “I just turned 19, and I’ll be a sophomore in the fall. Betty Jean will be graduating next year.”
After she closed the pot and placed the spoon on the white spoon rest next to it, Ash said, “What are you studying?”
Ash nodded his approval. “Teaching’s a good choice.”
“I thought about being a nurse. That’s what my sister wants to do. She’s in Maretta’s nursing program. I like helping people—but I hate science. And all that blood—I just can’t take looking at it.”
Ash laughed. “I’m not cut out for medicine either. But I did teach for a while, right after I graduated from Clemson three years ago. I taught agriculture at the high school; also coached the football team. This summer I’m still doing a little teaching. In the evenings, a couple times a week, I teach adult reading classes.”
“Aunt Izolla told me all that, but she also said you’ll be going to law school this fall.”
“That’s right. I decided to go into politics. It’s only natural.” The Kroths were descended from a large land holding family of wealth and political prestige. Ash leaned close to Kitty and smiled. “You know, since before the Civil War, the Kroth men have been known as crafty lawyers and shrewd politicians. And one of these days, Miss Kitty Mae Wilkes, I’m gonna be the governor.”
“Oh?” Kitty put her hands on her hips. “And how’s that Mr. Ash?”
“I’ve got it all worked out. Law school’s gonna take me three years, so my sights are set on the 1940 election. That’s when I’ll run for superintendent of education. I know I can do a better job than the old geezer that’s doin’ it now. He keeps getting elected, but if I run, I know I can win.”
“What’s so funny?”
“Just why do you think you can win? ‘Cause you’re young and good looking?”
“No.” Ash grinned. “But I can make a better budget and improve the schools. Schoolhouses need modernizing and physical education programs need to be instituted. And I also want--”
Kitty interrupted him. “You’re mighty confident. Why not just run for governor to begin with?”
Ash smiled. “Because I gotta start small and prove myself. Later I’ll run for state senator—then the governor.”
Kitty raised one eyebrow. “And then the White House.”
Ash sensed her sarcasm. “Hey, the sky’s the limit. Think big and you can do anything!”
“Especially if you’re a Kroth.” Kitty walked to the sink and pulled out a damp dish cloth. Wiping crumbs from the counter, she said, “Your grandfather was a governor, and your daddy worked for that other governor everybody called ‘The Torch.’”
“But, Kitty, if you work hard and apply yourself, you can do anything. Anybody can.”
Kitty didn’t say anything as she finished wiping the counter and then rinsed the cloth.
Ash hesitated as he tried to read her thoughts. Times were hard; anyone who wasn’t rich was struggling. And he knew all about the other problems Negroes faced every day.
Maybe Kitty realized his plan for modernized schools didn’t include the colored ones. But he’d make sure all colored children in the state received a decent education. Separate but equal; that’s how things were supposed to be in the South. But they weren’t. However, Ash rationalized, life for Negroes was a far cry from days gone by.
“Kitty, times aren’t like what they used to be. Everybody can get an education--and education is the key to success.”
She took a deep breath. “Now you know--” she began, but stopped abruptly. Her brown eyes flickered. They just missed sparking when she remembered her place.
But Ash wanted to hear what this Negro girl had to say, and see just how far she’d go. “I’m listening,” he prodded.
Kitty only smiled. “It doesn’t really matter what I’m thinking.” She glimpsed up at the clock over the stove and gasped, “Oh, no!”
“What’s wrong?” Ash asked. He watched Kitty quickly turn on the heat under a large cast iron skillet.
“It’s almost 8:00. Aunt Izolla said that’s when your daddy likes to eat.” Kitty frantically pulled open the silverware drawer and grabbed a knife. She used it scoop a large glob of butter from a soft hunk on a saucer near the stove. After shaking the butter into the skillet, she looked at Ash, worried. “And she said to scramble the eggs as soon as the biscuits finished baking.”
Kitty rushed to the icebox and pulled out a bowl. She stood looking at it for a moment as though unsure of what to do next. “These are the eggs. They’re already beaten and ready to scramble. But I—I was hoping Aunt Izolla’d be back by now ‘cause—I can’t cook!”
Ash laughed. “You can’t cook? Does she know that?”
“Yeah,” Kitty said, moving to the stove. “But she said anybody can scramble eggs.”
When she started to dump them into the skillet, Ash stopped her. “Wait a minute!” He reached for the bowl. His body touched hers as he took it from her hands, and he lingered near her a moment longer than necessary. “The pan’s not hot enough yet. See, the butter hasn’t even finished melting. Just wait a little while. And then,” he set the eggs on the counter, “I’ll cook ‘em.”
“I don’t mind. I was a Boy Scout. I’ve scrambled eggs over an open camp fire many a time.”
Kitty exhaled, relieved. “Thank you, Mr. Ash.” She walked back to the icebox and pulled out a pitcher of orange juice, then filled three small glasses on a tray. “I better put this juice on the table and start setting out the food. Aunt Izolla’s gonna kill me when she comes back.”
“I doubt that,” Ash smiled, “but she might kill me.” He poured the eggs into the skillet and they began to sizzle. Maneuvering them with a metal spatula, he asked, “Where is Izolla, anyway?”
“She wanted to show Betty Jean a few things around the house. She showed me everything when I first got here, but Betty Jean was late. She was feeling sick and almost didn’t come at all.”
Heavy footsteps plodded down the back stairs, then stopped abruptly at the rear kitchen entry way. Kitty quickly grabbed the tray of juice glasses and headed for the dining room, but before she reached the swinging door, her great aunt’s commanding voice bellowed.
“Hold it right there!” Izolla yelled. Kitty froze but didn’t turn around. Izolla eyed Ash at the stove. “Just what’s going on in here? Mr. Ash, your mama’s payin’ good money for my great nieces to work here this summer. She ain’t payin’ them to watch you cook!”
“Izolla,” Ash smiled, “I’m just helping out. Besides, Kitty said she can’t cook.”
Kitty still hadn’t turned around. But when Ash saw her shoulders hunch and her head drop, he almost laughed.
“‘Kitty’?” Izolla frowned.
“She said I could call her that,” Ash explained, scraping scrambled eggs onto the platter with the ham.
“Humph,” Izolla snorted. “Turn around, Miss Cat.” Kitty slowly turned to face her aunt. “Cookin’ ain’t medicine and you don’t need no law degree to scramble eggs!”
“But Aunt Izolla,” a small voice said from behind the large woman’s frame. Ash was caught off guard by this seemingly invisible presence. He looked hard at Izolla, waiting for something to appear. Moments later, a young girl emerged from behind her.
The girl’s skin was fair like Izolla’s, a light honey brown, but she was thin and petite, shorter than Kitty. Her wavy black hair was shoulder length and she wore it tied back in a ponytail with a pink ribbon.
“Cooking’s like chemistry,” the girl said quietly. “And Catherine hates any kind of science.
Ash eyed this girl a little longer than necessary because she wore the thickest glasses he’d ever seen. When she looked down, he realized he’d been staring. Ash averted his eyes, then moved toward her politely. “How do you do, miss?”
“This here’s Mr. Ash,” Izolla said as they shook hands. “This is my other niece, Betty Jean. And she can cook.”
Ash noticed Kitty bristle. “Aunt Izolla,” Kitty said, “Mr. Ash just offered to help, that’s all.”
Ash flashed a charming smile. “That’s right, Izolla. No harm in that, is there?”
“Don’t you need to shower and dress before breakfast?” Izolla snapped.
Ash jumped to attention. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Well get on outta here so we can get to work!” Izolla grabbed the wooden spoon from the stovetop. Dried grits were plastered to it. Shaking the utensil in Ash’s direction, the fat on her upper arms jiggled furiously. “And look here, Mr. Ash! You behave yourself around my great nieces.”
“Now, Izolla,” Ash said smoothly, “I’m always a gentleman.”
“Even though you’re grown,” she moved toward him a few paces, still wielding the spoon, “I’ll use force if I have to, to control you, incorrigible as you are!”
Kitty laughed. “Aunt Izolla, Mr. Ash seems perfectly harmless.”
“You don’t know him like I do,” Izolla smirked.
“Now I resent that, Izolla, I’m harmless as a fly.”
“Then get on outta here ‘fore I swat you!”
Ash left the kitchen still remembering the slight touch of Kitty’s body next to his.