[Marxism] The Black Cultural Front: Black Writers and Artists of the Depression Generation

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon May 12 11:37:51 MDT 2014


How the aftermath of the Great Depression convinced several African 
American writers to adopt a leftist outlook

The Black Cultural Front describes how the social and political 
movements that grew out of the Depression facilitated the left turn of 
several African American artists and writers. The Communist-led John 
Reed Clubs brought together black and white writers in writing 
collectives. The Congress of Industrial Organizations' effort to recruit 
black workers inspired growing interest in the labor movement. One of 
the most concerted efforts was made by the National Negro Congress, a 
coalition of civil rights and labor organizations, which held cultural 
panels at its national conferences, fought segregation in the arts, 
promoted cultural education, and involved writers and artists in staging 
mass rallies during World War II.

This book examines the formation of a black cultural front by looking at 
the works of poet Langston Hughes, novelist Chester Himes, and 
cartoonist Ollie Harrington. While none of these writers were 
card-carrying members of the Communist Party, they all participated in 
the Left during their careers. Interestingly, they all turned to 
creating popular culture in order to reach the black masses who were 
captivated by movies, radio, newspapers, and detective novels. There are 
chapters on Hughes's "Simple" stories, Himes's detective fiction, and 
Harrington's "Bootsie" cartoons.

Collectively, the experience of these three figures contributes to the 
story of a "long" movement for African American freedom that flourished 
during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Yet this book also stresses the 
impact that McCarthyism had on dismantling the Black Left and how it 
affected each individual involved. Each was radicalized at a different 
moment and for different reasons. Each suffered for their past 
allegiances, whether fleeing to the haven of the "Black Bank" in Paris, 
or staying home and facing the House Un-American Activities Committee. 
Yet the lasting influence of the Depression in their work was evident 
for the rest of their lives.

Brian Dolinar teaches in the Department of African American Studies at 
the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. His articles have 
appeared in Langston Hughes Review, Southern Quarterly, and Studies in 
American Humor.

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