Friendship between students and professor results in compelling book

“A Rainbow in the Dark” by Wade McCoy and Patrick Chalfant, may be a fiction, but it is based on the real-life story of the authors' former Southwestern Oklahoma State University professor, Henry “Kirk” Kirkland.
BY CARLA HINTON Modified: January 29, 2012 at 10:29 am •  Published: January 29, 2012

“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood.”

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

A black teenager left to fend for himself in a small rural Oklahoma town in the 1940s.

A white drugstore owner whose belief in the young boy transcends race and the rigid social mores of the day.

This scenario inspired the fictionalized version in the novel “A Rainbow in the Dark,” written by two Oklahoma men, Dr. Wade McCoy and Patrick Chalfant.

The novel is based on the real-life story of the authors' former college professor, Henry “Kirk” Kirkland, Ph.D.

McCoy, who practices family medicine in Bethany, said Kirkland taught him and Chalfant when they were students at Southwestern Oklahoma State University.

Both authors, who are white, said Kirkland, who is black, inspired each of them during their time at Southwestern, along with thousands of other students at the Weatherford university.

McCoy, 46, said he found out about Kirkland's inspiring life story during their many conversations throughout the years.

And, in an unexpected twist, McCoy discovered through genealogy research that one of his ancestors, a slave owner at one time, and one of Kirkland's relatives, a former slave, lived in the same Alabama county during the same time period.

McCoy said this discovery, his enduring friendship with Kirkland, and Kirkland's friendship with a white drugstore owner, reminded him of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s hope that people, regardless of their race and background, could connect through bonds of friendship and love. King made the statement in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

“It's such a legacy to Dr. King. It really is about content of character,” McCoy said.

Chalfant agreed.

“The things that I've learned from him (Kirkland) are very essential to Dr. King's message.”

Kirkland said the genealogy discovery made by his former student convinced him that divine intervention was at play.

“That's why I think there's a higher power that is handling all of this,” he said, smiling.

McCoy smiled, too.

“So we stumbled upon each other in Weatherford more than 100 years later. The story is bigger than us. It's about love and grace.”

“Many of us owe our success to Kirk. We are grateful he got up every morning and ran those rail tracks in the cold, rain or the snow.” — Afterword by Dr. Wade McCoy, “A Rainbow in the Dark.”

McCoy said he was fascinated with Kirkland's childhood history and he knew that it would make it good book.

He said Chalfant, a Tulsa author who had graduated from Southwestern after he had and asked Chalfant if he wanted to help write the story.

Chalfant, 41, said he also was intrigued by Kirkland's story so they all met together to talk one day.

By their next meeting, the three were ready to take a trip to Atoka, where Kirkland pointed out things and places that were central to his years growing up in the rural town.

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