Tag Archives: Race Relations

Native Son by Richard Wright

I usually do not like recommending books to the average stranger, because my tastes, though wide, are more precise as I age. But I’m telling you, EVERYONE should read these two books NOW!  Native Son (1940) is a work of fiction that astounds me.

For years I have wanted to read Wright but never got around to it. In my twenties, I read a handful of Black authors and liked them but became a little burned out on the subject, much like telling a talker, “OK, I get it.”

Well, as I aged, I learned a lot about how things work and how people are, and about how I am. I am a white male. And as I became older and wiser, I discovered I had racist issues as is expected, since society is full of racism. My racism wasn’t hatred or feelings of inequality, but such that I bought into a lot of stereotypes that society threw at me.

Recently, I’ve gotten into a writer, Nelson Algren, who was a close friend with  Wright. They met at the Federal Writer’s Project in Chicago, and this gave Wright the time and money to produce Native Son.  Both were “Communists” in the 30’s and 40’s. Both experienced life from the bottom of society. Native Son, as well as Algren’s early novels, delves deeper into the intricate ways that the top and middle of American society preys upon its poor and black people than any work of fiction that I have read.

It is an exceptional novel that begins with high drama and is able to sustain the climax for the entire novel. The protagonist is Bigger Thomas, a 20 year old African-American male, who at his mother’s urging gets a real job. He is a young “thug” surviving by stealing and using his wits. Wright intentionally makes him a stereotypical thug for effect. If Bigger is an acceptable young man, who fit into society, it would be easy for everyone to let him pursuit the “American Dream.” But Bigger is trapped in 1930’s society in Chicago slums. The Jim Crow effects reach northward in more subtle ways, but they are not subtle if you are black. Bigger was not allowed to be an AMERICAN. He was only a “Negro Nationalist” living in America. Bigger was unwanted by his OWN PEOPLE and “his” country of birth.

Bigger knows how to survive in a tough black reality. He is exceptionally smart and can figure out the con in every game. But all he knows of the white world is to avoid it. It is ok to rob a black liquor store, but not a white one. He knows the Cops will come down on you hard if you mess with white folks.

So the real action begins when Bigger gets a job as a chauffeur for a rich, white family.  One night out with the beautiful daughter (Mary) of this rich man, and her Communist boyfriend (Jan) forces Bigger to cross many boundaries he doesn’t want to. He soon learns that one small action can change  the lives of many. We are all interconnected in a very simple, yet complex way although we seem all separate from one another.

If I had to give one book to Middle School to College aged people to read, Native Son is the one. The language is so simple and Wright makes the complex ways of interconnectedness so clear than everyone can see.  This modern world is made to make us a cold money making machine. And we roll along with this machine as it grinds out human lives beneath it.

To some, who are not willing to open their minds, it may feel that white people are on trial here but it is more that society is on trial. Individuals only make up a tiny part of it. But individuals and their actions can shape the world at large. In groups, we go easily along with what is inhumane in society.

The great baseball player Curt Flood, speaking about The St. Louis Cardinals owner August Busch, who was astonished to learn that black players could not stay at white hotels during spring training, said: “It shows you how you can segregate yourself into the back seat of a limousine and not know what’s going on.”  In the novel, the wealthy Mr. Dalton is one that rolls along with it. He is a great philanthropist and supporter of black people but he also had made his wealth in real estate at black people’s expense.

There is an innocent intelligence to the main character Bigger Thomas. He knows what is going on, but not quite. His survival in his black world is much different than his trying to stay alive in the white world. The rules are much different.  He learns as he goes. Experience is his teacher. In the end, what Bigger (and the reader) has to learn goes SOUL DEEP. It speeds by all the rules of civilization. The REDS, the WHITES, and the BLACKS are all weighing on Bigger’s mind wanting something from him that he cannot give. He is truly an outsider who must face a reality he could never have imagined.

Another book that I highly suggest is The Fire Next Time (1962), a work of non-fiction by James Baldwin, an adversary of Richard Wright. It is very enlightening, collecting two Letters, written during the height of the Civil Rights Movement.  Each Letter looks frankly at the state of American race relations from the black perspective, as well as Baldwin’s personal history.

It was a suggestion offered by a Facebook friend, who said it should be taught in school. It did not disappoint me. In fact, it inflamed me even though it is 55 years old.

We have both books in three different formats. I used all three with both books. I read both the Hardcover versions, the eBook (when around a computer), and listened to the Audiobook as well.  I usually have a hard time following along with an audio version but both books were a joy to listen to. The Native Son CD is beyond excellent.

Reviewed by Tom, Main Library

GodPretty in the Tobacco Fields

The loss of her parents was a tragedy for RubyLyn Bishop. Even worse in her mind, she was shuffled off to live with her Uncle Gunnar in the small rural town of Nameless, Kentucky. For RubyLyn life in Nameless brings changes and challenges from the people who watch and gossip about her.

She must work in the tobacco fields to help support the small farm on which she and her uncle live. Memories of the past and a small scrape of tobacco paper are all RubyLyn has left of happier times with her parents. When her spirits need a bit of a lift, she sometimes folds the scrap of paper into a fun way to tell her fortune, a practice that Uncle Gunnar doesn’t approve.

Surprisingly, RubyLyn finds growing tobacco is something that comes naturally to her. There’s a sense of peace, a solace in working the land and plants, especially when a close neighbor, Rainey Ford, takes an interest. He is easy to talk with and friendly. It isn’t long before she finds herself caring a good deal about him, but there is a problem, he is African-American and she is white. In the 1960’s South, close friendships like theirs were frowned upon and could cause serious problems for them.

Then there is Rose, an older woman and neighbor, who becomes someone that RubyLyn can depend on and talk with when she needs someone. Rose encourages RubyLyn to enter her tobacco plant in the State Fair competition. It may be just the push she needs to realize there is a larger world around her and that she can decide for herself where her future should lie.

Born and raised in central Kentucky, this book drew me in right away. In it, I found an opportunity to spend a short time in the Appalachian area. If you’ve ever wondered what small town life might be like, especially in our turbulent past, this is a book you should take time to sit with. In my opinion, Kim Michele Richardson takes the reader on a journey back in time, using her words to paint pictures of small town life with characters you will come to care about and for whom you can root. It is a realistic portrayal, where life doesn’t always end the way you want it to, where when one road ends another will begin.

Later this year, Ms. Richardson will release a new novel entitled The Sisters of Glass Ferry. For more information about this budding author check out her website.

 

 

Formats Available:  Regular Type, Book Kit

Reviewed by MicahShawnee Branch

Blood Done Sign My Name: A True Story by Timothy Tyson

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Letter from a Birmingham Jail, 1963

On May 11, 1970 in the North Carolina town of Oxford, an African American man named Henry Dortress Marrow, Jr. was viciously beaten and murdered in public by three white men who would all three be acquitted by an all-white jury of this horrendous, cold-blooded crime. In response to this travesty of justice, there were demonstrations, riots, and a months-long boycott by African Americans in the community of white-owned businesses that eventually forced the leaders of Oxford to end segregation practices there. That’s right, end segregation practices in 1970, despite the passage by the Congress of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

blooddonesigned

This is very difficult book to read, and I am not referring to the writing or narrative style. The violence and injustice that is recorded within its pages is repugnant and infuriating, but this is an important story to hear. I feel certain that there may be some who would say: Why write this book and drudge up hard feelings? Nothing good can come from it. To these people I would reply that in order for a country and its society to move forward as a unified people, it is essential to study the past, most especially those events that continue to divide, so that chasms may close and wounds healed.

Mr. Tyson, the son of a white Methodist minister who was a strong and public advocate for the Civil Rights Movement, was ten years old and living in Oxford at the time of Mr. Marrow’s murder, and it is this crime and its fallout that shaped the person that Mr. Tyson developed into as an adult. The reader joins Mr. Tyson in reflecting very deeply upon the Civil Rights Movement and the history of race relations in the United States, which leads to a litany of questions. How does one define freedom? How is change most effectively encouraged by a movement? What is the current state of race relations in America today?

It is absolutely vital that these and additional questions be examined by all, as the future of our country really does depend upon everyone facing our past in order to understand the present so that we may make progress together as a single people. And Blood Done Sign My Name serves as an emotional and powerful impetus for just such a purpose.

“Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in this world, but it has not solved one yet.”
Maya Angelou
Conversations with Maya Angelou, 1989

Formats Available:  Book (Regular Type), Audiobook (CD), Downloadable Audiobook

Reviewed by Rob, Crescent Hill

New exhibit examines Black Freedom, White Allies, and Red Scare in 1954 Louisville

 

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This year marks the 60th anniversary of a home purchase, bombing, and trial that shook Louisville and the nation. In 1954, the Wade family moved into a Shively home purchased by civil rights activists Anne and Carl Braden, becoming the first African American family on the block. After segregationists bombed the home, the Bradens were put on trial — accused of plotting a communist takeover of Kentucky. A new exhibit at the Louisville Free Public Library — Black Freedom, White Allies, and Red Scare: Louisville, 1954 — chronicles the 1954 bombing and ensuing sedition trial of Anne and Carl Braden.

Black Freedom, White Allies, and Red Scare: Louisville 1954 incorporates photographs, newspaper articles, and artifacts from the Courier-Journal and University of Louisville Library and Archives, with contemporary historical and documentary text from Braden biographer Dr. Cate Fosl and the Braden Institute staff. The display examines racial equality and civil rights in 1954 Louisville, as well as its legacy today.

Black Freedom, White Allies, and Red Scare: Louisville, 1954 will be on display in the Main Library’s Bernheim Gallery from September 25, 2014 to November 9, 2014.

Be sure to check out the following related programs at the Library!

Opening Reception

October 1, 7:00 p.m. at the Main Library

It will feature an introduction to the exhibit by Dr. Cate Fosl, followed by a preview of the sedition trial reenactment directed by U of L theater professor Amy Steiger

Students from the university’s public history program also will be on hand that evening to record oral histories with visitors who want to share how they experienced 1954 and the related topics covered in the exhibit.  

The exhibit and opening reception are free and open to the public.


The Social Construct of Race: Immigrants and the “Box” – Panel Discussion

October 7, 6:30 p.m. at the Iroquois Branch


Anne Braden: Southern Patriot – Film Viewing and Panel Discussion

October 21, 7:00 p.m. at the Main Library

 


The Wall Between by Anne Braden – Adult Book Discussion

October 22, 6:00 p.m. at the Crescent Hill Branch

 


Throughout the exhibit’s run, patrons will have the opportunity to share their six-word stories on race through The Race Card Project.

 Visit LFPL.org for more information and join the conversation on Twitter using #BradenWadeat60.