Author Joey O’Connor continues to fascinate readers with his riveting portrayal of William Sheppard, a little-known Black human rights hero, in Among Kings: The Amazing Adventures of the Congo’s African American Livingstone and the Courageous People who Toppled King Leopold II. While Black History Month is celebrated annually in the United States to commemorate black heroes of the past, Sheppard is hardly discussed despite his contributions.
Inspired by true events, this meticulously researched novel draws upon the pasts of real-life heroes to deliver a powerful account of how even the most unassuming of men can topple a monarch. In the novel, readers follow the life, loves, journey, and adventures of William Sheppard who overcomes racial prejudice and adversity in a fight for human rights in the Congo. Risking his life, Sheppard’s brave actions helped to end King Leopold II’s slavery in the Congo, changing the course of history for the world.
In the aftermath of the Civil War, Among Kings follows Black missionary William Sheppard from Virginia to the Belgian-controlled Congo, joined only by a white colleague, Samuel Lapsley. Traveling by steamship 1,000 miles up the Congo River, the novice missionaries face dangerous animals, disease, cannibal tribes, and King Leopold II’s Force Publique army. Sheppard becomes known across the world for his travels, discoveries, and adventures. When tragedy strikes, Sheppard returns to America to marry his fiancée, only to be horrified by the newly implemented Jim Crow laws.
Upon their return to the Congo, Sheppard is stunned to realize that King Leopold II has enslaved the entire country to work in the rubber trade. Armed with only a camera and the steel of his resolve, Sheppard risks his life to expose the atrocities of the Belgian king to the world. Researchers now state Leopold is responsible for the world’s fourth largest genocide, estimated at eight to twelve million people.
O’Connor’s work is perfect for fans of historical fiction and novels that dissect the racism of the Great Scramble for Africa era, as Colson Whitehead explored the Jim Crow period in The Nickel Boys. O’Connor’s visual storytelling depicts a rich story world in a clash of historic turn-of-the-century events. The Great Scramble for Africa, Industrial Revolution, and Jim Crow periods display dramatic backdrops for this powerful story. Reviewers and fellow authors praise Among Kings as an incredible contribution to the genre. Thomas Locke, best-selling author of Trial Run, writes, “The clarity of O’Connor’s drama, the strength of the plotting, the vivid characters, and above all the excellent writing suggests an author at the very apex of his career.”
Among Kings is also an excellent classroom resource that explores the historical intersection of religion, African culture, and the global abuses of Western colonizers. The friendship between Sheppard and Samuel Lapsley highlights the dynamics of interracial friendship during this time. Among Kings includes photos and book club questions to guide discussions and foster engagement about race relations, Black history, colonialism, and racial reconciliation.
As one of the most celebrated missionary-explorers of his time, William Sheppard spoke at both white and Black churches all over America. As a hunter, missionary, explorer, art collector, author, and human rights hero, Sheppard’s accomplishments in the Congo earned him the praise of kings, chiefs, queens, and presidents. In modern times, Sheppard is little-known during Black History Month, making Among Kings a necessary work to remind readers of our age that there are many voices in the chorus that calls for a freer, more just world. O’Connor states, “William Sheppard needs to be included in the human rights conversation.”
O’Connor first learned of William Sheppard fifteen years ago when Ken Straw (his brother-in-law) shared a book about Sheppard’s life. O’Connor and Straw formed the new Congo Reform Association non-profit organization to assist in ending the Congo Conflict.
O’Connor stated, “As we researched the Congo, we learned that in the past twenty years, over six million people have died in the Democratic Republic of the Congo due to two Congo wars and mineral rights conflicts.” O’Connor even traveled to the Eastern Congo to work with his friends, Camille & Esther Ntoto, founders of Africa New Day.
When asked about new books, O’Connor said he is writing a modern-day Congo thriller about human rights, cryptocurrency, and a global conspiracy to control the world’s mineral resources. “Most of the world does not know that many of the minerals that power our cell phones come straight from the Congo. The Congo is in everyone’s pocket.”
Joey O’Connor is the award-winning author of twenty-one books and screenplays. He is the co-founder of the Congo Reform Association, whose mission is to inspire social action through story, film, and social media to end the Congo Conflict and create a self-sustaining, thriving Congo. O’Connor lives and writes in San Clemente, California… Congo Reform Association http://www.congoreformaossciation.org or www.joeyoconnor.org.