ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Doubleday published Moons novel The Darker Brother in 1943. The book established Moons credentials as a leading liberal
in race relations and, by extension, an expert in social and economic policy. In the book Moon showed the trademark of a devoted
social realist; he was a politically inspired novelist interested almost exclusively in a sympathetic portrait of black working-class life.
The Indignant Generation by Lawrence P Jackson
Wins The William Sanders Scarborough Prize
New York, NY 5 December 2011 The Modern Language Association of America [MLA] today announced it is awarding its tenth annual William Sanders Scarborough Prize to Lawrence P. Jackson, professor of English and African American studies at Emory University, for his book The Indignant Generation: A Narrative History of African American Writers and Critics, 1934 1960, published by Princeton University Press. The prize is awarded for an outstanding scholarly study of black American literature or culture.
The William Sanders Scarborough Prize is one of eighteen awards that will be presented on 7 January 2012, during the associations annual convention, to be held in Seattle. The members of the selection committee were James J. Davis (Howard Univ.), chair; Thadious Davis (Univ. of Pennsylvania); and Robert Levine (Univ. of Maryland). The committees citation for the winning book reads:
In this magisterial narrative history of African American literature running from the end of the Harlem Renaissance to the beginning of the civil rights period, Lawrence P. Jackson expands the archive for assessing African American writing during a period that has often been reduced to protest writing. Jackson places writers into fresh contexts of cohorts (critics and editors included) and threads a clear narrative line through three heady decades jam-packed with African American authors publishing in a variety of genres and venues. Jackson is excellent on the important influence of the Communist Party, on mid-twentieth-century black literary culture, and on issues of publishing and reception. Beautifully written and rich in historical detail, The Indignant Generation should quickly become a standard work in twentieth-century African American studies and United States publishing history.NewBlackman
By Lawrence P. Jackson, Princeton Univ., $35 (560p) ISBN 978-0-691-14135-0
Using the career of the writer and literary critic J. Saunders Redding (19061988) as linchpin, Jackson (Ralph Ellison) surveys a little examined period1934 to 1960in African-American literature. On one hand, his encyclopedic book offers a chronological, old-fashioned history of literature, covering a period desperately in need of thoroughgoing research and detail, and presents a deeply documented, dense but thoroughly readable account. On the other hand, Jackson’s book is news: he connects the writers (the common focus of literary history) to publishers, editors, periodicals, organizations; he links African-American writers to the “significant African American intellectual class teaching at black colleges.” A near census of black writers and thinkers, Jackson’s integrated account of a segregated world places white figures (e.g., Bucklin Moon, Lillian Smith, Norman Mailer, Jack Kerouac) on the map as well. Jackson’s detail may offer more than the casual sightseer seeks, but scholars will rely upon and mine his monumental work and the prodigious research upon which it is based. It should guide the way African-American and American literature is studied.PublishersWeekly
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The Indignant Generation is the first narrative history of the neglected but essential period of African American literature between the Harlem Renaissance and the civil rights era. Writers such as Richard Wright, Gwendolyn Brooks, Ralph Ellison, Lorraine Hansberry, and James Baldwin rose to prominence during this period, but little attention has been paid to the political and artistic milieu in which they produced their greatest works. Looking at the tumultuous decades surrounding World War II, Jackson restores the “indignant” quality to a generation of African American writers shaped by Jim Crow segregation, the great Depression, the growth of American communism, and an international wave of decolonization. He also reveals how artistic collectives in New York, Chicago, and Washington fostered a sense of destiny and belonging among diverse and disenchanted peoples. Fully exploring the cadre of key African American writers who triumphed in spite of segregation, The Indignant Generation paints a vivid portrait of American intellectual and artistic life in the mid-twentieth century.PrattLibrary
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By Chester Himes
At this point Negro martyrs are needed. The martyr to create incidents which will mobilize the forces of justice and carry us forward from the pivot of change to a way of existence wherein everyone is free. It is obvious that we can not stay here; weve got to go somewhere. If we cannot of our own accord go forward, we will against our own will be pushed backward. The first step backwards is riots. Riots are not revolutions. In the best sense revolutions are the renunciation of the existing evil of governments by the governed. Revolutions are not necessarily brought about by force of arms. They may be successfully accomplished by the manifest will of the people. In the event of a Negro American Revolution it is to be hoped there will be no shooting.
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Irredeemable Promise: J. Saunders Redding and Negro New Liberalism
Excerpt by Lawrence Jackson
I picked up a book which I have by-passed on Library shelves for years. J. Saunders Reddings No Day of Triumph. Dont you find interesting, when you [sic] rereading it today, Richard Wrights introduction? The book itself, after the biographical chapters at the beginning, is a marvel so full is it of rich material. Where is he now?Julian Mayfield, letter to John Henrik Clarke, 6 July 1955
Toward the end of a 30-year publishing career, the 53-year-old writer, literary critic, and English professor James Saunders Redding (190588) brimmed with a capstone project. He wanted a leading house to publish his second and unwritten novel, a book that would redeem his career and confirm as worthwhile his efforts as a writer and teacher of literature. That early winter of 1959, Redding was going into his fifteenth year teaching English at a small college in coastal Virginia and wondering about posteritys opinion about him. The fretting that Redding showed that year was one he had displayed his whole writing life and it was difficult for others to understand because he had already experienced unequivocal success as a writer. He had published long essays in Harpers and Atlantic Monthly.
Time magazine had reviewed his books and carried his photograph, along with the Saturday Review of Literature. Redding had cornered literary prizes, like North Carolinas Mayflower Cup, awards noticeable enough that Allen Dulless Department of State asked him to represent the US on an extended tour of India as that country emerged from British satrapy to world power. Reddings second book No Day of Triumph (1942) had been published by Harpers and reviewed all over the nation. By 1951, he held a post on the editorial board of the Phi Beta Kappa journal American Scholar. His first novel, Stranger and Alone (1950), had been widely reviewed and, generally, deemed significant. But when he put out feelers to publish the second novel, he did not generate the excitement of a well-known writer, prizewinner, and potential best-seller.
Gloomy and filled with a sense of foreboding, Redding reacted like any well-connected writer in a similar situation. He wrote his most powerful friends to steady him. On New Years Day 1959, Redding sent a note to Henry Allen Moe, the man who had headed the Guggenheim Foundation for more than 20 years. In the letter, he chronicled his interminable delays before coming to terms with Bennet Cerf of Random House, perhaps the most prized among the New York literary publishers. Moe had authorized a fellowship for Redding in 1944 and was in a position to offer another grant so that Redding could finish his project.
The professor was disappointed that it had taken a year and a half to relieve himself of a contract clause from the earnest Midwestern publisher Bobbs-Merrill. Finally, Redding was clear to write a book he had started thinking about in the early 1950s. And, judging from the evidence, it worked. In March that year, another Guggenheim went to Redding. He would call the new novel Cross and Crown. To friends like Moe, Redding offered a straightforward program for the novel: it would be a sequel. My plan can be stated simply: it is to write a novel in which the protagonist of Stranger and Alone is again the protagonist and in which he brings about his redemption.1 The redemption of his own identity as an American figured highly in the mind of J. Saunders Redding.
However, in the words that Redding had once used to deride the new criticism literary movement of the 1940s, all his work on the novel came to nothing. Even with equally prestigious fellowship and publishers contract, he spent his years mainly turning himself into a better spokesman. For the liberal arts colleges, he prepared a lecture series on international affairs called People, Policy and Propaganda. Redding traveled the country and fielded more lucrative job offers than the one he had at Hampton Institute.
The five chapters of Cross and Crown he had written would remain buried in the desk of his upper room. Emory
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Bucklin Moon and Thomas Sancton in the 1940s: Crusaders for the Racial Left
Excerpt by Lawrence Jackson
In 1943, Edwin Embree, the head of the Julius Rosenwald Foundation, wrote to Atlantic Monthly editor Edward Weeks praising a young Georgian as one of a small but increasing number of younger white Southerners who represent a point of view which to a great many of us seems much keener than that of the older writers (Embree to Weeks, 11 Feb. 1943). Embree was talking about Lillian Smith, whose books Strange Fruit, Killers of the Dream, and Now Is the Time would become the best known and widely read works by an American white advancing the cause of racial integration during the 1940s and early 1950s. But he could have been talking about two other writers, men who, in the circles of the Rosenwald Foundation, the trust fund that nearly created the vanguard of race-liberal writers of the 1940s, were expected to make significant contributions to the disintegration of racial prejudice. Their names were Bucklin Moon and Thomas Sancton.
Bucklin Moon was born in 1911 in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, but after a short time he moved to the South. By 1944 when he was applying for the Rosenwald creative writing fellowship, a grant made to either blacks or southern whites, he would make a successful case for the award by telling director Embree, I have spent most of my life in that region (Moon to Embree, 24 Nov. 1944). Moon gained deep personal feelings toward African Americans and an ability to depict the American South as a youth and as a student at Rollins College in Florida in the early 1930s. At Rollins, Moon was exposed to Zora Neale Hurston (who was associated part-time with the College) and to professor John Andrew Rice, who even then was something of a crusader for black rights (Boyd 24143).
Rice left Rollins in 1933 and founded Black Mountain College near Asheville, North Carolina, an experimental school with shockingly unorthodox racial policies. Moon graduated from Rollins at twenty-four and won some early recognition for a 1938 Harpers magazine short story called Boats for Hire. Set in the Gulf Coast, the narrative advanced Moons concern with the tangled emotional connections of race that concluded with base acts of prejudice. By the early 1940s he had taken a job as an editor at the firm Doubleday and Doran, a post he held until 1951. During the era of Moons tenure at Doubleday, the firm became the national leader in publishing fiction and non-fiction revealing the unfair treatment of African Americans, books written by some black and many white authors. At Doubleday, under the name George L. Hack, Moon anonymously submitted his first book for publication.
Doubleday published Moons novel The Darker Brother in 1943. The book established Moons credentials as a leading liberal in race relations and, by extension, an expert in social and economic policy. In the book Moon showed the trademark of a devoted social realist; he was a politically inspired novelist interested almost exclusively in a sympathetic portrait of black working-class life. The Darker Brother offered an interior viewpoint of racial segregation and showed black discontent as a general and not an isolated feature. In particular, Moon offered one of the earliest portraits of the recalcitrance and venom of economic race prejudice in the urban North. Like Carson McCullers through her portraits of African Americans in The Heart is the Lonely Hunter, Moon used black dialect exclusively as a means to create characters, not to reinforce humorously ideas of racial difference. Beyond that, his tale was a black love story that occurred in the face of northern discrimination.
The Darker Brother was the narrative of a Florida family moving to Harlem. Widow Essie Mae takes her children Ben and Josie to live with her husbands brother Rafe. Soon enough, race prejudice begins to destroy them. . . .
On the left, Thomas Sancton, managing editor of The New Republic, offered another point of view. In Moons book, Sancton saw the new terms for depictions across the color line:
[T]he Negro is going to take a new status in American fiction, as he has in life. Serious white writers in increasing numbers will enter Richard Wrights field of protest. The Negros own fight for political and social equality is forcing this change in literature. In white mens books he is going to stop being a niggerno matter how subtly this stereotype has been established heretoforeand become a person. . . . Negroes are people. They suffer just as intensely as white people; they get just as hungry. What has happened to them is a vast cruel story. The South was built by their toil and suffering. So were Northern fortunes. So were English cotton-textile cities like Liverpool and Manchester. The Southerners must start to tell it right. (Novels and Negroes 464)
Only the Communists, (whom Sancton had not joined,) put the situation of black Americans so candidly. Hoping for a second European front in 1943, they were not arguing hotly for black equality. Sancton spoke out like a young John Brown.
In spite of the success, Moons Wisconsin origins were of course a weakness; he was not a native southerner, and could thus be dismissed as an outside radical. But The New Republics Sancton brought to these public debates over the Negro problem the impeccable credentials of a white southerner native to New Orleans. Twenty-seven-year-old Thomas Sancton left the second half of a Harvard Nieman fellowship and moved to New York to become the journals managing editor in 1942. Founded in 1914 by Herbert Croly, The New Republic hoped to start little insurrections in the realm of its [their readers] convictions (Lissner 21).
The liberal journal endorsed New Deal policies, among them the support of federal laws that banned any form of racial discrimination, and they advocated for labor. Louis Lyons and Professor Paul Buck of Harvard had given Sancton high recommendation when Bruce Bliven, The New Republics president and editor, started looking for young blood to run the journal. Sanctons southern origins helped the journal recover from what many writers and influential intellectuals thought of as more than a Stalinist flirtation in the 1930s. Two years before Sancton came aboard, the Trotsky-leaning James T. Farrell had described portions of the journal as in full renegade[s] from liberalism (Farrell Seven 31).
Although the decision to use heavy dialect prevented the novel from aging gracefully, Moon faithfully exposed the environmental severity of the urban ghetto and the triumphant spirit of those who could survive it. He reproduced the spectrum of black ideological investment, from militancy to escapist religion, and emphasized great optimism in the black Americans future.
The upbeat narrative that forecast the gradual assimilation of Bigger Thomases filling up American cities found immediate support from the New York Times. The book is important . . . because it is the first of its kind, combining a good story with authentic portraits of the Negro people, wrote Rackham Holt (Holt 5). Moon had managed something that distinguished him from black writers, a modulated tone (not too strong and not too bitter) that was without pretension (almost colloquial and always simple).
As The New Republic managing editor, Sancton combined an unshakeable patriotism within a defiant voice for liberalism, energetic commitments that seemed fueled by his passion for racial equality. Sancton emphasized his origins to rip the façade of a congenial white Southland, beneficent and united in its attitude toward the Negro. The New Republics young editor had ridden in the van of the liberal cohort for more than five years. After college at Tulane Sancton had begun writing for a national audience with short stories in Harpers about his early years in the South, using his fiction to intercede against race prejudice.
Sanctons short story The Dirty Way of April 1938 presented police reporters and detectives in New Orleans to show the moral inadequacy that led to racist violence. In 1941 he published The Parting, a short story about a white boys fond memory of a black servant, dismissed from her job because of racial prejudice. The only thing stopping Sancton was his ambition. He worked at The New Republic through the fall of 1943, when he successfully applied for a Julius Rosenwald Fellowship to begin a novel about southern life; he also claimed to be nearing the end of a non-fiction book for Harpers, also on the South.
Sanctons efforts at The New Republic helped make possible a significant transition by the second half of the 1940s, when even a moderately perceptive novelist like Fannie Cook understood that Jim Crow is Public Enemy No. 1 (Cook 10). In the 1920s white writers had made careers writing about the Negro, but even the more generous of them, like Julia Peterkin and T.S. Stribling, had resorted to comic stereotypes and heavy regional folklore; making black uplift the center of a serious writers career was unheard of. Richard Wrights success showed for the first time the commercial viability of a black author. A few years later the deep interest in Gunnar Myrdals long study An American Dilemma suggested the publics willingness to look beyond the old stereotypes and clichés about the Negro problem.
Sanctons gift was not only to attack the reactionaries but the assumptions of liberals as well. He showcased in his journalism the difficult stories of racial injustice with which whites were completely unfamiliar unless reading the Negro press. One of the early reports Sancton brought to the journals readers presented the case of Odell Waller, a black farmer electrocuted for killing a white man in Virginia. Sancton showed a rural Bigger Thomas to the nation because, though Waller may have been technically guilty as charged, the overriding circumstances of the debt-peonage system in Pittsylvania County and the inability of black farmers to seek redress under law were among the profound though subtle values mitigating the case and requiring no compromise and no apology in the conscience of a real liberal (Waller 46).Emory
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Lawrence P. Jackson is a professor of English and African American studies at Emory University. He is the author of Ralph Ellison: Emergence of Genius, 19131952 and the forthcoming My Fathers Name: A Black Virginia Family after the Civil War. His criticism and nonfiction have appeared in publications such as Baltimore Magazine, New England Quarterly, Massachusetts Review, Antioch Review, American Literature, and American Literary History. The holder of a doctorate degree in English and American literature from Stanford University, Professor Jackson has held fellowships from the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard University, the Stanford Humanities Center, the Ford Foundation, and the National Humanities Center. He began his teaching career at Howard University in 1997. His current project is a biography of Chester Himes. For more background, read “The Grooming of a Public Intellectual: Lawrence P. Jackson.”
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Excerpt Lawrence Jackson
When my wife and I learned that we were going to have a baby, we thought it would be fitting, if it was a boy, to name the child Nathaniel after my father and grandfather, and in honor of the American patriot rebel Nat Turner. Six weeks before the baby was due, I drove up to Danville, Virginia, the rural point of origin for the Nathaniels of my own family saga. More precisely, I drove to just north of Danville, to the outlying town of Blairs. I thought that walking the terrain of my forebears would put me in a paternal frame of mind and that, with luck, I might find my grandfathers old house by the railroad tracks. In the back of my mind, I was thinking that it would be nice to try to understand my fathergone fifteen years now, but such a formidable presence in my own memory.
Two years before, I had celebrated my fathers birthday by driving from Richmond, where I then lived, down Route 29 to Danville. On that trip I had gone to the tourist bureau and looked at telephone books from the 1960s and 1970s to see if I could find my grandfathers address. But I forgot a crucial fact: Grandpa Jackson had lived in Blairs, not nearby Danville, the comparatively robust hamlet of fifty thousand on the Dan River. So I spent an hour in Danvilles colored cemetery vainly looking for the headstone. The most distinctive episode of the trip occurred on the route to and from Richmond, when I stopped every ten miles or so and shot rolls of film, capturing every tin-roof barn and chinked wooden cabin that looked as if it, like my grandfather, had its beginnings in the nineteenth century.
My father was not especially close to his paternal family, and after my grandfather died in 1975 we visited Blairs only once, the next year. That summer trip formed my most vivid and enduring memory of the place, and the time was spent mainly sitting on Aunt Sallys front porch while the adults talked. As I recall, I swatted about seventeen flies in the sweltering August heat. I was just getting coordinated enough to swat a healthy fly, and the insects seemed to me the most no-account form of animal life I had encountered: uglier than ants, vicious and stubborn. Sometimes, while I was waiting for the adults and wishing for other kids, I would jog up and down the road outside the simple white clapboard house. In the living room, Aunt Sally had only hard candy in a bowl, and I remember moaning and pleading for a popsicle.
The trips to Danville were unremarkablealways. At 11 A.M. we would leave our home in Baltimore, outfitted to survive if the Volkswagen broke down and we wound up stranded outside of Fredericksburg, Virginia, as regularly happened. Well beyond the point of miserliness, my father resisted eating at roadside restaurants, whether Howard Johnson or Tastee Freez. We would pack fried chicken legs, sandwiches, and frozen sodas in an insulated sack. Danville was about four hundred miles from Baltimore, and if we got what was, for the four of us, an early start at eleven in the morning, wed arrive there, in the summer, just before dark, about a quarter to nine.
My father painted the needle of the Volkswagen on fifty-five, which was probably the best way to coax the old fastback down the road without repairs. My grandfather had wanted my father to buy a Cadillac, to let everyone know that his son Junior had been educated and lived well in the city. My father was content to dress like an Englishman, to have married a light-skinned woman, and to have preschool children who could read and swim.Emory
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Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis
Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as “the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field ‘cut their teeth’.”
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By Melissa V. Harris-Perry
According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless Mammys behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own familys needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.
As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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posted 10 December 2011