"the Robert Nixon case"|
From the Chicago Tribune, 5 June 1938 --
IS LIKENED TO
BY CHARLES LEAVELLE
Beneath an alley fire escape policemen and detectives stand three and four deep. From a fifth floor window others lean out and call: "Let him come."
Handcuffs click. A slouchily dressed colored youth detaches himself from the crowd of detectives and begins making his way up the side of the building effortlessly. At the second floor, where the fire escape begins, he poises himself lightly and swings over on to it.
"Look at him go," says a policeman. "Just like an ape."
By the time this has been said the youth has swung himself over the sill and is in the fifth floor room where two years ago he raped and murdered with a brick Mrs. Florence Thompson Castle. As detectives watch he shows in pantomime how he committed the crime, one of the five savage murders he has confessed.
The Negro youth is Robert Nixon. He is 18 years old and comes from a pretty little town in the old south -- Tallulah, La. But there is nothing pretty about Robert Nixon. He has none of the charm of speech or manner that is characteristic of so many southern darkies.
That charm is a mark of civilization, and so far as manner and appearance go, civilization has left Nixon practically untouched. His hunched shoulders and long, sinewy arms that dangle almost to his knees; his out-thrust head and catlike tread all suggest the animal.
He is very black-- almost pure Negro. His physical characteristics suggest an earlier link in the species.
"my contact with the labor movement and its ideology"|
From American Hunger, continuation of Wright's autobiographical Black Boy (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), pp. 62-64:
I went home full of reflection, probing the sincerity of the strange white people I had met, wondering how they really regarded Negroes. I lay on my bed and read the magazines [International Literature & Left Front] and was amazed to find that there did exist in this world an organized search for the truth of the lives of the oppressed and the isolated. When I had begged bread from the officials, I had wondered dimly if the outcasts could become united in action, thought, and feeling. Now I knew. It was being done in one-sixth of the earth already. The revolutionary words leaped from the printed page and struck me with tremendous force.
It was not the economics of Communism, nor the great power of trade unionism, nor the excitement of underground politics that claimed me; my attention was caught by the similarity of the experiences of workers in other lands, by the possibility of uniting scattered but kindred peoples into a whole. My cynicism -- which had been my protection against an America that had cast me out -- slid from me, and, timidly, I began to wonder if a solution of unity was possible. My life as a Negro in America had led me to feel -- though my helplessness had made me try to hide it from myself -- that the problem of human unity was more important than bread, more important than physical living itself; for I felt that without a common bond uniting men, without a continuous current of shared thought and feeling circulating through the social system, like blood coursing through the body, there could be no living worthy of being called human.
I hungered to share the dominant assumptions of my time and act upon them. I did not want to feel, like an animal in a jungle, that the whole world was alien and hostile. I did not want to make individual war or individual peace. So far I had managed to keep humanly alive through transfusions from books. In my concrete relations with others I had encountered nothing to encourage me to believe in my feelings. It had been by denying what I saw with my eyes, disputing what I felt with my body, that I had managed to keep my identity intact. But it seemed to me that here at last in the realm of revolutionary expression was where Negro experience could find a home, a functioning value and role. Out of the magazines I read came a passionate call for the experiences of the disinherited, and there were none of the same lispings of the missionary in it. It did not say: "Be like us and we will like you, maybe." It said: "If you possess enough courage to speak out what you are, you will find that you are not alone." It urged me to believe in life.