When Preston Downs, Jr. , alias Prez, slides down the emergency chute onto the frozen tarmac at the Montreal airport, little does he know that returning home to Washington D. C. or to his adopted city, Chicago, would now be impossible. Events had sped by after a dust-up with the Chicago police. With a new name and papers, he finds himself in a foreign city where people speak French and life is douce compared to the one he fled. Son of a World War II vet, Prez grows up in the 50s in D. C., a segregated Southern city, and learns early that black lives don’t much matter. As a leader in the streets, his journey from boyhood to manhood means acquiring fighting skills to lead and unify long before losing his virginity. Smart and skeptical, but with a code of ethics, he, like every black kid, wants to be Malcolm, Martin or at least a “soul brother,” which inspires fear among the powers that be. Spotted while an A student at Howard University in 1964, Prez is invited to do an interdisciplinary course with field work on Civil Rights in Chicago, a city as divided as Gettysburg was a hundred years earlier. Faced with police-state conditions, dubious armed gangs, spies and provocateurs, Prez and the young women and men he works with are propelled into a head-on fight with police. James Baldwin wrote that the blues began "on the auction block," others say it started with their kidnapping from Africa. Prez was born in exile, with the blues. Only someone who has lived through that period can write an enthralling and passionate story like Exile Blues. Gary Freeman has done so with insight and sensitivity.
Douglas Gary Joseph Freeman is an African American now living in Canada. First-born child of Joseph Pannell Sr., a WWII Naval veteran, and Pauline Adams whose grandmother was born into slavery, he grew up in Washington, D.C., a segregated city know for police brutality. As a high school student he became involved in the Civil Rights movement and then at Howard University turned to Revolutionary Black Nationalism. Frederick Douglass was his first hero, but Malcolm X and Martin Luther King forged his ideological development and political activism, which led him to Chicago where he worked with a local South Side African American organization. Targeted by Chicago’s Red Squad for elimination, he had to fight for his life on a South Side street. The gun-battle that ensued left an officer wounded and the author wounded and in prison. The author began a long quest for justice which weathered repeated and renewed threats to his life. He fled to Canada “illegally” and became Douglas Gary Joseph Freeman. Married with four children, he worked chiefly as a library professional He was arrested on July 27, 2004 on an extradition warrant. After an 11-year successful struggle for justice, he was returned home to Canada in January 2015.
“Once all monarchies and then-or-now fascistic states, the European-Caucasian-majority duchies claim to be God’s chosen, egalitarian democracies. Yet, to be born black (or Turtle Island Indigenous) in any of these republics or constitutional monarchies is to be born, exiled from true citizenship. That’s the thesis of this gripping, true-to-life novel. Detailing genocidal police warfare against black youths and men in Washington, D. C. (a. k.a. 'Dixie'), and Chicago, Exile Blues is also the coming-of-age story of Preston Downs, Jr. , 'Prez,' whose nickname highlights his slick, executive-privilege style of analysis, fisticuffs, and romance. Prez 'out-clevers' the paleface, ghoulish, guns-always-drawn racism of the U. S. capital, and slips the homicidal grasp of Chicago’s KKK-like cops, to escape to Montréal ('P. Q.'—back then, not yet 'QC'). But 1969 Montréal is in revolutionary ferment, and Prez finds himself navigating a maze of Black Panthers, Algerian nationalists, and FLQ radicals, all while trying to stabilize his love-life. Exile Blues is as cinematic, fast-paced, and action-packed as a classic, Blaxploitation flick. It’s the novel Malcolm X might have written had he not suffered martyrdom. ” — George Elliott Clarke, Canadian Parliamentary Poet Laureate (2016-17), author of George & Rue
"Exile Blues is fictionalized autobiography at its best. It is a novel but the central facts detail the author’s actual experiences of police racism in Washington D. C. and Chicago in the 1950’s and the 1960’s and his flight to Montreal to avoid prosecution. Freeman ('Prez' in the book) utilizes the freedom of a novel to re-create scenes that provide deeper understanding and have greater impact than would be possible in an autobiography. Exile Blues is a very engrossing book that gives fascinating insights into life in black ghettos in the United States" — Peter Rosenthal, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics and Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of Toronto and retired lawyer
“exceptional and moving… (Freeman) writes with passion about fighting injustice in U. S.A. and his struggle to find peace and security in Canada. ”—Richard King, CBC (Montreal)
"Born Joseph Pannell in Washington, D. C., Freeman grew up in the early years of the American civil rights struggle. While working in Chicago’s South Side in the 1960s, he became part of that struggle, an outspoken activist targeted by the Red Squad, a division of the Chicago police department. He fled the United States in 1969, after shooting a police officer in self defence, thinking he would never be able to return. He eventually settled in Toronto, where he married, raised a family, and worked as a librarian. (We should take a moment here to appreciate the significance of the name he adopted during this exile. ) He was arrested in 2004 outside the Toronto Reference Library on Yonge Street, and was held without bail for four years as he fought extradition. Eventually agreeing to face charges in the United States — for which he was exonerated — he then spent seven years trapped in the U. S. as he fought for re-entry to Canada. He was eventually allowed to return from this new exile in 2015. Freeman’s new book, Exile Blues, delineates the roots of those exiles, and documents the gradual understanding of the nature of race relations in the United States. Framed as a novel, one will find oneself unavoidably reading the book as a pseudo-memoir. Or, perhaps better, a spiritual autobiography. Exile Blues begins with Preston Downs Junior’s arrival in icy Montreal in the winter of 1968. He is taken in by a community of dissidents and revolutionaries, and begins to build a life in exile. When a figure from his past appears, however, readers are taken on a journey through his early years, his childhood, the loss of his father and friends, his growing awareness of the world around him and his place within it. And, most crucially, what he believes he must do to change that world. The framing sequences in Montreal are beautifully wrought, and brought to vivid life. As one might expect, the substantial flashbacks to his earlier life are handled differently, with a broad approach which, ultimately, suggests a foundational mythology, the recounted life as origin story. The disconnect between these approaches is occasionally frustrating, but Exile Blues quickly becomes a compelling read. More significantly, it has the air of an important read, a vivid exploration of an era which continues to shape not only individuals like Freeman, but an entire culture, one which — as Pannell has demonstrated — easily transcends borders. " —Robert Wiersema, The Toronto Star
"Exile Blues could be one of the most important Black History novels to appear in recent years. "—James Fisher, The Miramichi Reader
"To read Exile Blues is to step into the US of the 50s and 60s, to engage with African-American youth at the frontlines of fighting and protesting for freedom and equal rights. .. an engaging and multi-faceted narrative of survival and strength. "—Terese Mason Pierre, Quill & Quire