The story is told through the eyes of a photographer that travels with a Journalist. Unbeknown to the photographer, the Journalist is a secret agent for the Woman's Anti-Slavery Society.
In 1836, in downtown Saint Louis, Missouri, Francis McIntosh is chained to a huge tree and burned alive.
In 1837, Elijah Lovejoy, the editor investigating the brutal murder of Francis McIntosh is attacked by a mob. Though he escapes, his office is destroyed and parts of his press are thrown into the Mississippi River. Thinking it safer, Elijah moves his family across the Mississippi River to Alton, Illinois. When his new press is delivered, he is attacked and murdered. The involvement and injustice of the police and the judicial system, leads to national outrage. As a result, riverboats refuse to land, people planning to settle in Alton change their minds and go elsewhere, business people planning to invest, refuse to do so. Quickly, Alton goes from being a thriving city, to a small decaying city.
In 1838, the Woman's Pennsylvania Hall is burned to the ground. The women are convinced that the acts of terrorism are connected and that a great mystery is behind it. To solve the mystery their secret agent Charley is sent to Fort Pillow, Tennessee. Charley's cover is his Journalism. His cousin George is his photographer.
In 1862, the Superintendent of Schools in Toledo, Ohio, John Eaton, joined the Union Army. In 1863 General Grant appointed Eaton Superintendent of the Contraband Camps. Quickly, the camps were being turned into self-supporting Educational Centers. (Fort Pillow was among the 74 schools that he established.) After the war he was appointed the United States Commissioner of Education. Eaton is the one that organized Washington, D.C.’s Board of Education and reorganized the Bureau of Refugees, Freedman, and Abandoned Lands. In the winter of 1863 General Sherman, without orders, destroyed the Educational Center in Corinth, Mississippi. Powerful anti-slavery people in Washington D.C. owned land in Fort Pillow. This made it impossible for General Sherman to order the destruction of what was being built there.
In 1864 the secret diary of a leading member of the KGC was given to a member of the Women's American Anti-Slavery Society. What is discovered is shared with Charley. The diary leads him to Fort Pillow, Tennessee. The women are supporting the Fort Pillow Educational Center. (Charley will travel with the men and women transporting materials.) At Fort Pillow Charley will document the history of the slaves. Take pictures of their wounds, discover who had mistreated them, and get the Doctor's report. People need to know the truth. Perhaps he will find from them the information he needs.
Charley is motivated by the murder of his mother. On the day of the burning of Pennsylvania Hall the women of the Anti-Slavery Society had planned a meeting. A mob formed, and they were advised to leave. To protect their colored sisters, they walked hand-in-hand down the street. Can you see them? The colored sister was on the inside next to the building and their white sister was on the outside exposed to the rocks being thrown. Charley’s mother is the only one seriously injured. Later she will die from her injuries. Charley wants to find out who is responsible for the murder of his mother. It will take time. First he must grow up and be educated.