"It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have." ~ James Baldwin
"Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
P O Box 1752 Paris TX 75461 ~ 903.783.9232 ~ naacp6213@yahoo.com
Meets First Thursday of Each Month at 6:00 PM ~ 121 E Booth

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Richard Wright

 "I was leaving the South 
to fling myself into the unknown . . . 
I was taking a part of the South 
to transplant in alien soil, 
to see if it could grow differently, 
if it could drink of new and cool rains, 
bend in strange winds, 
respond to the warmth of other suns
and, perhaps, to bloom"

Richard Nathaniel Wright was born September 4, 1908 near Natchez, Mississippi. His family moved around throughout the area, often living with relatives after his father left and his mother suffered a series of strokes. Wright, his mother and older brother settled in Jackson, Mississippi when he was eight to live with his grandmother, an extremely religious woman. The repression he experienced there, as well as the racism encountered in daily life, formed the basis for his writing throughout his life.

Wright graduated from Junior High as valedictorian but refused to give a speech written by the vice principal that catered to the all-white school board. This was the end of his formal education, and at age 15 he moved to Memphis where he began reading H. L. Mencken and other books a white co-worker checked out of the library for him. He later moved to Chicago, continuing to educate himself, reading the naturalist literature of Theodore Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson, and Sinclair Lewis. He worked as a postal clerk, and his mother, brother and aunt came to live with him. When he was laid off in 1931 the family was forced to go on relief.

During this time Wright joined the John Reed Club, a Marxist organization for artists, writers, and other intellectuals. He joined the Communist Party in 1933 but became disenchanted by power struggles and racism in the part, as well as being perceived as bourgeois by other African Americans because of his intellect and his association with whites.  His experience during this time was published in 1944 in Atlantic Monthly as "I Tried to Be a Communist".

Wright moved to New York in 1937 where he became the Harlem editor of The Daily Worker, and participated in a WPA writers' project where he won a $500 prize for his short story, Fire and Cloud. The acclaim from this win led to the publication of a collection of four novellas, Uncle Tom's Children, a brutal depiction of life in the South.

It was followed in 1940 by Wright's most noted work, Native Son, again a bleak portrayal of African American life in the early part of the twentieth century. This book, set in Chicago, explores the  social forces leading central character Bigger Thomas to murder his employer's daughter. An immediate best-seller, it became the first Book of the Month Club selection written by an African American and is considered one of the most influential books of the century.

A dramatic version written by Wright and Paul Green, and produced by Orson Welles, opened on Broadway the following year. Also in 1941 Twelve Million Black Voices was published, with Wright's descriptions of photographs by Edwin Rosskan. An autobiography Black Boy came out in 1945, depicting Wright's life in the South before his move to Chicago. A second volume covering his later years, American Hunger, was published posthumously in 1977.

To escape American racism and the growing anti-Communist political climate, Wright moved to Paris in 1946, becoming a French citizen the next year. His later novels, influenced by his association with existentialists Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and Simone de Beauvoir, did not have the success of his earlier work. He traveled throughout Europe, Africa and Asia, writing non-fiction accounts of culture, politics and religion. He began writing haiku in the late 1950's, amassing over four thousand, with 817 published in Haiku: This Other World  in 1997.

Keep straight down this block,
then turn right where you will find
a peach tree blooming.

As the sun goes down, 
a green melon splits open
and juice trickles out 

Coming from the woods,
a bull has a lilac sprig
dangling from a horn

The Christmas season:
a whore is painting her lips
larger than they are  

Wright died suddenly in Paris of a heart attack on November 28, 1960 at the age of 52. He was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1939 and the NAACP Spingarn Medal in 1941.

I Have Seen Black Hands

I am black and I have seen black hands, millions and millions of them --
Out of millions of bundles of wool and flannel tiny black fingers have reached restlessly and hungrily for life.
Reached out for the black nipples of black breasts of black mothers,
And they've held red, green, blue, yellow, orange, white, and purple toys in the childish grips of possession,
And choclate drops, peppermint sticks, lollypops, wineballs, ice cream cones, and sugared cookies in fingers sticky and gummy,
And they've held balls and bats and gloves and marbles and jack-knives and slingshots and spinning tops in the thrill of sport and play,
And pennies and nickels and dimes and quarters and sometimes on New Year's, Easter, Lincoln's Birthday, May Day, a brand new green dollar bill,
They've held pens and rulers and maps and books in palms spotted and smeared with ink,
And they've held dice and cards and half-pint flasks and cue sticks and cigars and cigarettes in the pride of new maturity . . .
I am black and I have seen black hands, millions and millions of them --
They were tired and awkward and calloused and grimy and covered with hangnails,
And they were caught in the fast-moving belts of machines and snagged and smashed and crushed,
And they jerked up and down at the throbbing machines massing taller and taller the heaps of gold in the banks of the bosses,
And they piled higher and higher the steel, iron, the lumber, wheat, rye, the oats, corn, the cotton, the wool, the oil, the coat, the meat, the fruit, the glass, and the stone until there was too much to be used,
And they grabbed guns and slung them on their shoulders and marched and groped in trenches and fought and killed and conquered nations who were customers for the goods black hands made.
And again black hands stacked goods higher and higher until there was too much to be used,
And then the black hand held trembling at the factory gates the dreaded lay-off slip,
And the black hands hung idle and swung empty and grew soft and got weak and bony from unemployment and starvation,
And they grew nervous and sweaty, and opened and shut in anguish and doubt and hesitation and irresolution . . .
I am black and I have seen black hands, millions and millions of them --
Reaching hesitantly out of days of slow death for the goods they had made, but the bosses warned that the goods were private and did not belong to them,
And the black hands struck desperately out in defense of life and there was blood, but the enraged bosses decreed that this too was wrong,
And the black hands felt the cold steel bars of the prison they had made, in despair tested their strength and found that they could neither bend nor break them,
And the black hands fought and scratched and held back but a thousand white hands took them and tied them,
And the black hands lifted palms in mute and futile supplication to the sodden faces of mobs wild in the reveries of sadism,
And the black hands strained and clawed and struggled in vain at the noose that tightened about the black throat,
And the black hands waved and beat fearfully at the tall flames that cooked and charred the black flesh . . .
I am black and I have seen black hands
Raised in fists of revolt, side by side with the white fists of white workers,
And some day -- and it is only this which sutains me --
Someday there shall be millions and millions of them,
On some red day in a burst of fists on a new horizon!

"Between the World and Me"

And one morning while in the woods I stumbled
    suddenly upon the thing,
Stumbled upon it in a grassy clearing guarded by scaly
    oaks and elms
And the sooty details of the scene rose, thrusting
    themselves between the world and me....
There was a design of white bones slumbering forgottenly
    upon a cushion of ashes.
There was a charred stump of a sapling pointing a blunt
    finger accusingly at the sky.
There were torn tree limbs, tiny veins of burnt leaves, and
    a scorched coil of greasy hemp;
A vacant shoe, an empty tie, a ripped shirt, a lonely hat,
    and a pair of trousers stiff with black blood.
And upon the trampled grass were buttons, dead matches,
    butt-ends of cigars and cigarettes, peanut shells, a
    drained gin-flask, and a whore's lipstick;
Scattered traces of tar, restless arrays of feathers, and the
    lingering smell of gasoline.
And through the morning air the sun poured yellow
    surprise into the eye sockets of the stony skull....
And while I stood my mind was frozen within cold pity
    for the life that was gone.
The ground gripped my feet and my heart was circled by
    icy walls of fear--
The sun died in the sky; a night wind muttered in the
    grass and fumbled the leaves in the trees; the woods
    poured forth the hungry yelping of hounds; the
    darkness screamed with thirsty voices; and the witnesses rose and lived:
The dry bones stirred, rattled, lifted, melting themselves
    into my bones.
The grey ashes formed flesh firm and black, entering into
    my flesh.
The gin-flask passed from mouth to mouth, cigars and
    cigarettes glowed, the whore smeared lipstick red
    upon her lips,
And a thousand faces swirled around me, clamoring that
    my life be burned....
And then they had me, stripped me, battering my teeth
    into my throat till I swallowed my own blood.
My voice was drowned in the roar of their voices, and my
    black wet body slipped and rolled in their hands as
    they bound me to the sapling.
And my skin clung to the bubbling hot tar, falling from
    me in limp patches.
And the down and quills of the white feathers sank into
    my raw flesh, and I moaned in my agony.
Then my blood was cooled mercifully, cooled by a
    baptism of gasoline.
And in a blaze of red I leaped to the sky as pain rose like water, boiling my limbs
Panting, begging I clutched childlike, clutched to the hot
    sides of death.
Now I am dry bones and my face a stony skull staring in
    yellow surprise at the sun....

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