The Other Blacklist: The African American Literary and Cultural Left of the 1950s
Mary Helen Washington
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Mary Helen Washington recovers the vital role of 1950s leftist politics in the works and lives of modern African American writers and artists. While most histories of McCarthyism focus on the devastation of the blacklist and the intersection of leftist politics and American culture, few include the activities of radical writers and artists from the Black Popular Front. Washington's work incorporates these black intellectuals back into our understanding of mid-twentieth-century African American literature and art and expands our understanding of the creative ferment energizing all of America during this period.
Mary Helen Washington reads four representative writers―Lloyd Brown, Frank London Brown, Alice Childress, and Gwendolyn Brooks―and surveys the work of the visual artist Charles White. She traces resonances of leftist ideas and activism in their artistic achievements and follows their balanced critique of the mainstream liberal and conservative political and literary spheres. Her study recounts the targeting of African American as well as white writers during the McCarthy era, reconstructs the events of the 1959 Black Writers' Conference in New York, and argues for the ongoing influence of the Black Popular Front decades after it folded. Defining the contours of a distinctly black modernism and its far-ranging radicalization of American politics and culture, Washington fundamentally reorients scholarship on African American and Cold War literature and life.
a sophisticated critic who, Jackson says, embraced a range of positions: “a modernist impatient with older patterns of race relations,” a bourgeois with a desire for mainstream approval, and a race man who valued black racial traditions (2010, 718). However, that sophistication and subtlety was not on display in his comments at the AMSAC conference. In that limited forum, Redding was lofty and erudite, showing off his impressive knowledge of literary history and hinting at but failing to
they were artists on the Left on their own terms, experimenters and protestors in both their activism and their art. NOTES INTRODUCTION 1. The list of scholars I include in the section “Design and Methodology” represents the contemporary Cold War scholars of African American literary history and the Left who have begun to reverse this trend. Even as late as 2001, Cold War scholarship could elide the importance of race. None of the nine essays in Rethinking Cold War Culture (Kuznick and
(2003, 165, 183)term. See also Carter et al. (1956). Von Eschen (1997, 153–159) excellently analyzes the way race and racism were systematically reframed in domestic terms, thus displacing more militant civil rights arguments that racism was grounded in systems of domination. 31. In the 1967 Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia, the court specifically used the term “White Supremacy”: “There is patently no legitimate overriding purpose independent of invidious racial discrimination which
2002. Artists on the Left: American Artists and the Communist Movement, 1926–1956. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press. Herzog, Melanie Anne. 2005. Elizabeth Catlett: An American Artist in Mexico. Seattle: University of Washington Press. Higashida, Cheryl. 2009. “All the World’s a Minstrel Stage: Alice Childress, Queer Feminism, and Black Anticolonialism.” Paper presented at the American Studies Association Annual Meeting. ——. 2011. Black Internationalist Feminism: Women Writers on the
working or acting in the Negro Youth League, then she was almost certainly exposed to radical politics, an affiliation that suggests she was formed politically at an early age by her associations with the Left as well as by grandmotherly influence. After both her mother and grandmother died in the mid-1930s, Childress was left on her own and forced to leave high school after two years. Because Childress was notoriously reticent about revealing her private life, we know very little about her