Black Authors in American History
February 28, 2017
The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s and the overall struggle for equality has spawned dozens of powerful African American writers. These writers have individually absorbed the pain, the fury, the journey, and the hope, that Black Americans have endured for centuries, and release these strivings and dreams in the form of numerous studies, poems, novels, and plays.
Some authors have chronicled the neglected stories of those who lived their lives in slavery, and would either die slaves or break away from their chains and run away as freed men and women.
- E. B. Du Bois (1868-1963) was a sociologist and historian who wrote many research novels about the sociological study of African Americans, one of which being “The Souls of Black Folk,” published in 1903. This collection of essays was a mix of Du Bois personal experiences, and his sociological studies. This publication marked his transition from a sociological scholar to an equal rights activist. Du Bois would soon write many articles criticizing another African American scholar, Booker T. Washington, who Du Bois he believed Washington was far too inactive in the movement for civil rights after the turn of the century. Du Bois would soon form the Niagara Movement in 1905, a civil rights movement that would be short lived, but would soon lead to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), whom he helped in their founding.
Richard Wright (1908-1960) was an African American journalist and author, who began his career as a writer amidst the Great Depression. Like many others, Wright suffered through the poverty of that time, and formed a bitter view towards capitalism. Wright led and joined the Communist Party in 1932.
He eventually joined the Federal Writers’ Project in 1937, and moved to New York City. He soon published his first novella, “Uncle Tom’s Children,” which was a collection of four stories about the violence African Americans faced, and Wright argued through these stories that this violence is what is used to “keep the Negro in place.”
In 1940, Wright published “Native Son,” a “protest novel” that followed the story of an African American under severe pressure from his life in poverty. The novel was a best seller, selling 250,000 hardcover copies in 3 weeks of its publication. It was one of the earliest attempts to explain the racial divide in the United States in terms of social conditions imposed on African Americans in a White society.
Maya Angelou (1928-2014) was an author, director, actress, and poet who wrote about the struggles of the oppression of African Americans. Angelou had many talents, from singing to acting, but most notably was her literary works. After a troubled youth and struggling to raise her child she had at the age of 16, Angelou’s career as a performer took off, she soon joined the Harlem Writers Guild, and become a civil rights activist. After spending some time abroad, Angelou returned to United States, she wrote the memoir chronicling her childhood and young adult years in the 1969 novel “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” The work became the first nonfiction best-seller by an African American woman.
Angelou went on to write many other successful works, such as the 1972 movie, “Georgia, Georgia,” Angelou became the first African American woman to have her screenplay produced, and won a Tony Award for the piece. The story followed an African American girl, Georgia (Diana Sands), and a white man, Michael (Dirk Benedict), fall in love, but Georgia is soon hit with racial barriers set up by the people around her, telling her to “stick to her own kind.” Angelou later went on to direct some features, and published some more novels.
In 1993, She also gave a recitation of her poem “On the Pulse of Morning,” at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton. In her poem, she personifies the stones and dirt at which humanity walks upon, as the stones criticize humans for their violent nature and lost potential, and calls for humans to take responsibility and work toward a better future.