Thursday, April 13, 2006

Communism and black intellectuals

Hi everyone,
As I mentioned in class today, I believe that we need to pay attention to the fact that Ruth Brown and her "very beautiful white [daughter] (51)" were patients of Dr. Dixon, an African-American man, and that this fact may have been the doubly-buried social outrage that led to Brown's dismissal. One of the main objectives of the KKK is and was to "protect southern white womanhood" from black men. Louise mentions the history of the Klan in Oklahoma, but I'd like to know its status at the time of Brown's dismissal. I'm not suggesting that the Klan was necessarily directly involved, but some local people may have shared its hysteria over the idea of physical contact between black men and white women.
A few quick Wiki searches after class, though, also makes me want me to further investigate the authors and activists in the civil rights movement that inspired Ruth Brown. Turns out, both Richard Wright (author of "Black Boy," which meant so much to Ruth Brown) and Bayard Rustin (the openly gay civil rights organizer whose speaking engagement was cancelled) had been members of the Communist Party. Not secret members either- no crypto-Communism or "fellow-traveler-ism" here. For instance, Wright writes about it in "Black Boy," and was editor for a time of a Communist newspaper. Both Wright and Rustin became disillusioned with the Soviet model, as did many intellectuals. It seems to me that these are crucial facts of the case, not much discussed in the book. Does this make Ruth Brown a Communist? Not at all. But the notion that she might have been is not so far-fetched. As I said, it's worth further investigation.

1 comment:

Alycia said...

I agree very much with Soren's assessment that Richard Wright may have been a very influencial motivation for Ruth Brown's personal involvement in the civil rights movement, her collection development decisions and her devotion to intellectual freedom. I know from reading some of Wright's work (specifically I am thinking of The Outsider-which in which communism is a central theme, but also the sequel to Black Boy that talks of Wright as a young man and his political and class struggles) that Wright was involved in and intrigued by communism, and he was not afraid to make his interest or card-carrying public, to the detriment of his career as a writer (he indeed was blacklisted during the McCarthy era).
I think that by imagining Brown reading Wright's work in this period, we can better understand that she was very affected by how Wright spoke to segregation and to the limitations imposed on African Americans. But going further, it would be easy to see how Brown could closely relate the struggles of oppressed blacks to those oppressed by unpopular political opinions during this time, and how she may have sympathized with both through Wright's eloquent work (without herself even being a red, as Soren points out, and obviously without being an African American).
I think that Brown and many interesting librarians throughout the periods that we have been studying were iconoclasts to some extent, rejecting mainstream culture in some manner (refusing to marry, etc.) and by rejecting other assumed values, and I think that Brown did indeed learn something from Wright's rejection and anger at the American status quo and what it would not offer to him.
In writing my paper about this work, I have been thinking heavily about the mention of Wright's work and experiences as an influence on Brown, and I am very happy that Soren has pointed out the signifigance here, because I think it is very telling and important. I think often we ignore the ability of literature or arts to affect a person, and I think it can be especially important to consider what librarians read. This investigation of what librarians consume has been one aspect that I think has been missing from the library history we have been given so far.

Similarly to the sexuality/KKK theme that Soren mentioned as well, one of Wright's most famous books is Native Son, in which the themes of interracial sex and death are intimately intertwined...