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Randy Willis

Randy Willis|United States

Randy Willis is the fourth great-grandson of Joseph Willis and his foremost historian. Joseph Willis preached the first Gospel sermon by an Evangelical west of the Mississippi River.

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Twice a Slave

Jul 12, 2014

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The birth of Twice of Slave

Inspired by his grandmother, Lillie Hanks Willis, and his cousin's Donnie Willis and Dr. Greene Wallace Strother, Randy Willis began researching and writing about Joseph Willis in 1980.

After writing Joseph Willis' biography and many articles on him, Randy got the idea for a novel based upon Joseph's life from his friend and fellow researcher Dr. Sue Eakin.

Dr. Eakin had first contacted Randy in 1981 after reading an article he had written about Joseph which mentioned that he had purchased the only copy of the Spring Hill Baptist Church minutes in existence and which had much information on William Prince Ford. Dr. Eakin asked Randy if he would help her with her research on Ford who had bought Solomon Northup, in 1841, and was an associate and friend of Joseph Willis.

Dr. Eakin wrote Randy Willis on March 7, 1984, "We had a wonderful experience dramatizing Northup and I think there could be a musical play on Joseph Willis. It seems to me it gets the message across far more quickly than routine written material." She added, "a fictional novel based upon Joseph Willis' life would be more interesting to the general public than a biography and would reach a greater audience."

This is how Randy Willis got the idea for both the novel and the play that later became "Twice a Slave."

Randy was often a guest lecturer, on the life of his 4th great-grandfather Joseph Willis, in Dr. Eakin's history classes at Louisiana State University at Alexandria. She specialized in Louisiana history, particularly the Old South plantation system. Dr. Eakin is best known for documenting, annotating, and reviving interest in the 1853 "Twelve Years a Slave," a slave narrative by Solomon Northup, a free man from New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841. Dr. Eakin, at the age of eighteen, rediscovered a well-worn, long-forgotten copy of Solomon Northup's book "Twelve Years a Slave" on the shelves of a popular bookstore near the LSU campus in Baton Rouge, the bookstore owner practically gave it to her for 25 cents.

"12 Years a Slave" won the 2013 Academy Award for Best Picture. In his acceptance speech for the honor, director McQueen thanked Dr. Eakin: "I'd like to thank this amazing historian, Sue Eakin, whose life, she gave her life's work to preserving Solomon's book.

Northup had little but praise for the Ford who bought him for $1,000 at a New Orleans slave market. In one passage of "Twelve Years a Slave","

Northrup wrote of Ford, "there never was a more kind, noble, candid, Christian man than William Ford."

Joseph Willis (1758-1854) kept a diary. He entrusted William Prince Ford with his diary. Notes from the diary were arranged into a manuscript and later copied by early Louisiana Baptist author, W. E. Paxton, in 1858, for his book "A History of the Baptist of Louisiana, from the Earliest Times to the Present," (1888). Paxton admits most of his facts concerning Louisiana Baptists are from Joseph Willis' diary and Louisiana Association Minutes.

Joseph's diary and Ford's manuscript are both lost today.

Ford also made remarks in his manuscript based upon the diary. One of Ford's observations is recorded by Paxton and is very revealing concerning Ford's admiration of Joseph Willis. "Nearly all the churches now left in the association were gathered either directly or indirectly by the labors of Mr.

Willis." Ford added, "It was truly affecting to hear him [Joseph Willis] speak of them as his children; and with all the affection of a father allude to some schisms and divisions that had arisen in the past and to warn them against the occurrence of anything of the kind in the future. But when he spoke of the fact that two or three of them had already become extinct, his voice failed and he was compelled to give utterance to his feelings by his tears; and surely the heart must have been hard that could not be melted by the manifestation of so much affection, for he wept not alone."

Ford was later excommunicated from Spring Hill Baptist Church that Joseph Willis founded. But, Ford remained a lifelong friend with his mentor Joseph Willis. After selling Northup to another slaveholder, Ford in 1843 converted, with most of his Baptist congregation, to the Churches of Christ, to which Ford had become influenced by the writings of Alexander Campbell.

Campbell visited the congregation in 1857, at which time Campbell was favorably impressed by the fellowship practiced between blacks and whites in the congregation. Ford is buried in Cheneyville, Louisiana, in the Old Cheney cemetery.

Twice a Slave

Randy Willis and Sammy Tippit tell the raw-boned epic, based on their own ancestors, that gives American history a new face and a fresh voice.

The son of a white man and a Cherokee, Joseph Willis must live as a slave on his own property. After his father gives him his freedom on his deathbed, an angry uncle prevents his emancipation and confiscates his property.

His struggle for freedom is complicated by a love forbidden by society and his newfound spiritual faith. Declaring himself a slave to Jesus Christ, he experiences an eternal freedom no man or government can suppress and challenges most men would flee.

With a faith molded by tragedy, Joseph finds the courage to forgive and to change the course of a new nation.

The journey of Joseph Willis from North Carolina to Louisiana is filled with intrigue and inspiration. It describes the struggles of Native American slavery and the profound impact that Joseph Willis made on the newly acquired Louisiana Territory.

The story of Joseph Willis begins at the close of the First Great Awakening in America and ends at the height of the country's Second Great Awakening. It illustrates the faith of a person of low social stature and how his simple faith changed the course of Louisiana history. The story captures the hardships of early Evangelical leaders and the inspiration of the manner in which they overcame great obstacles.

Joseph Willis lived as a slave two times the first time because of injustice thrust upon him, and the second time because of the love of God that captured his heart and soul. It's an untold, yet unforgettable story.

Twice a Slave has been chosen as a part of the Jerry B. Jenkins Select Line along with four bestselling authors. Jerry Jenkins is author of more than 180 books with sales of more than 70 million copies, including the best-selling Left Behind series.

Randy Willis is the 4th great-grandson of Joseph Willis.

Twice a Slave Copyright © 2014 Randy Willis and Sammy Tippit.

About Randy Willis

Randy Willis is the fourth great-grandson of Joseph Willis and his foremost historian. Joseph Willis preached the first Gospel sermon by an Evangelical west of the Mississippi River.

He is a member of the Board of Trustees of The Joseph Willis Institute for Great Awakening Studies at Louisiana College.

He is the co-author of "Twice a Slave," the author of "Twice a Slave II The Apostle to the Opelousas," and Joseph Willis' biography, and many published newspaper and magazine articles including "What to do When Your Whole World Crumbles Around You," "The Hole in Our Lives," "When He Comes," and "Where There's a Will There's a Way."

"Twice a Slave" is a series of novels and a dramatic play. Randy Willis is currently writing two additional novels in the "Twice a Slave" series of books based upon the life of Joseph Willis which will be released in 2014.

He owns two music publishing companies with over 1,000 published songs. He is an ASCAP-affiliated songwriter and President of Quadra Entertainment Group d/b/a Quadra Records. He is the founder of Operation Warm Heart which feeds and clothes the homeless and is a member of the Board of Directors of Our Mission Possible (their motto is: Empowering at-risk teens to discover their greatness) in Austin, Texas.

He was born in Oakdale, Louisiana and lived in Longleaf, Louisiana as a child. His family moved to Texas when he was four-years-old. He currently resides in the Texas Hill Country.

He graduated from Angleton High School in Angleton, Texas, and Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas with a BBA and he was also a graduate student at Texas State University for six years.

He is single and the father of three sons and four grandchildren. "Twice a Slave" was dedicated to each of them by name.

Website: http://josephwillis.net http://amazon.com/author/randywillis

Randy Willis' Amazon author's page: