Book Notes Chapter 19 Notes from Black Boy

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Black Boy Chapter 19

Richard feels ready to write his biographical sketch of a black Communist. He goes to a meeting of a black Communist faction on Chicago's South Side, and is surprised to find himself laughed at as an intellectual. The group's members patronizingly accept him, but find him a caricature of a dapper young man, since he dresses cleanly and speaks articulately. He learns that they are not cruel, but simply ignorant. They fear any book or attitude not endorsed by the party. Richard is still convinced that he can win their trust eventually, because he cares about their fate so much, but he also "fear[s] their militant ignorance." Chapter 19, pg. 332

He meets a black Communist named Ross who is under indictment for inciting a riot. Ross agrees to let Richard interview him . Richard is desperate to understand this man, and to make him understood by others. But when others find out about his plan, they hint that he may be expelled from the party. Intellectuals do not fit in well, they say: their ideas depart from the party's too often. Suspicion against Richard continues to mount: party members worry that he is a Trotskyite (Trotsky having recently been expelled from the party for counter-revolutionary activity). Ironically, it is the highly respected Stalin that Richard agrees with the most: he appreciates the vision of unity put forth in Stalin's books. He reads about Russian peasants being appreciated for their own customs and ideas, rather than forced to follow those of the ruling class. He thinks of how different that is from the plight of black Americans, who are obliged to try to be as white as possible. He cannot understand why his efforts to change this are met with fear.

Topic Tracking: Ignorance 9

Soon after, in an interview with Ross, someone from the Central Communist Committee arrives to question Richard about his intentions. It turns out that the man, Ed Green, is Ross' lawyer and is worried that Ross might be telling Richard incriminating things. Insulted and shaken that black Communists cannot trust each other, Richard bangs his fist on the table. "You lost people!" he cries Chapter 19, pg. 337. Richard loves the militance of party members but despises how fearful and violent they are. He cannot gain their trust, and, since they are the first people he has opened his heart to, he feels more isolated than ever before.

The work he gets from government relief stations has left him and his family barely subsisting. He begins work at the South Side Boy's Club. Ross is charged with vague crimes like "anti-leadership tendencies" Chapter 19, pg. 340 and Richard is ordered to stay away from him. Since Richard has done nothing wrong, he refuses to submit to the will of the party. Party members grow more and more angry. Working at the Club, he meets many young, violent, alienated black boys who, he feels sure, are far from understood by Communists.

The party expects more and more from the John Reed Club, and eventually "Left Front" is canceled to give more focus to protest activity. Richard tries to support creative work within the party, but his suggestions are rejected. He sees that the John Reed Club is no longer unified enough to continue, and votes to dissolve it, which is viewed as treason. Everyone suspects him now.

At a national Club conference, Richard meets many people who feel as he does, but who are afraid to speak out. Then he learns that the Clubs across the country are being dissolved. A single national club would be formed--and all members of the old club would be denied membership to the new one. Richard is shocked: many artists and writers he knows had joined the Club in the hope of making something of themselves, and now they were being cast aside. Utterly disillusioned, Richard tries to distance himself from the party. Then he is invited to be a delegate at a writer's conference in New York City, and warily agrees. Once there, he finds that he cannot get a place to stay because he is black. Disgusted, he rejects his fellow (white) delegates' attempts to help him and he wanders the streets. Finally he stays with a white woman, and then at the Y.M.C.A. He wonders if a black man "ever live like a halfway decent human being in this goddamn country." Chapter 19, pg. 349 At the meeting, he again votes in favor of the clubs, knowing his actions will be interpreted as dissension.

He decides to leave the party. The stress of working and writing furiously have made him ill. Then Ed Green, Ross' lawyer, comes to see him. Bluntly, Green tells him that Buddy Nealson wants to see him. Nealson is the head of black Communist work programs. Richard imagines that he might help him understand why black Communists acted the way they did. But when he goes to see him, Richard is only confused. Nealson flatters him, telling him he can write and that the party needs him, but then he questions him subtly about his involvement with Ross. Richard swears that he has no political ambitions and that his interest in Ross was purely personal. Nealson seems distrustful but hides it under friendliness. He tries to draw Richard away from his writing in order to get him to study the high cost of living. Richard is doubtful, and Nealson tells him that the party has decided that he must take the project. This means that if he rejects the decision, he rejects the party. Faced with such pressure, Richard is noncommittal, biding his time. He knows he should leave the party but has not the courage yet.

Soon after, while Richard is grudgingly observing food prices, Nealson summons him again, this time with a friend named Smith. They both ask Richard again to become more involved in the party. He refuses, and Smith calls him a fool. Deeply insulted, Richard decides to leave the party. At the next meeting he makes a public speech, explaining that he hopes to stay involved in projects over which the party has influence, and to perhaps rejoin, but that for now, he would like to leave the party. Nealson states that a party decision will be deferred, and Richard leaves in an atmosphere of hostility. He feels grown up: he had been honest and forthright. He hopes the party will eventually change its violent and fear-driven tactics, so that he can rejoin. Later, Nealson sends him the message that he cannot resign from his duties, or he will be publicly and officially denounced. Angry, Richard says that he isn't afraid of that. He reflects on his experience in the party: he was feared for reasons he could not understand, and he never felt at home, even though those people seemed to be the most like him anywhere.

Topic Tracking: Coming of Age 10

He is transferred from the Boy's Club to the Federal Negro Theatre, where he begins work as a publicist. The theatre is currently producing classic plays with some "black" twists, which Richard thinks is a waste of talent. He brings in a special director, Charles DeSheim, to stage a controversial play about serious racial issues. The all-black cast, however, finds the play offensive, and votes it down, thinking it is unrealistic. One actor says, "I lived in the South and I never saw any chain gangs." Chapter 19, pg. 365 Richard is angered, because he knows that the awful conditions depicted in the book are realistic. When the actors try to get rid of Mr. DeSheim too, Richard informs him of their plan in order to help him convince them to let him stay. But the actors find out that Richard has been talking to him, and grow furious, calling him an "Uncle Tom," Chapter 19, pg. 366 because DeSheim is white. Richard quickly gets himself transferred away from the job, because he fears he will be murdered.

Topic Tracking: Violence 10

Soon after, a group of Communists come to Richard's home and ask that he attend a meeting with them. Suspicious, Richard questions them: if they will not speak to him on the street, why do they want him at their meetings? They finally divulge the secret that Ross is to be tried, and they want Richard to see what happens to those who go against the party. They want to save him, they say. Overcome with curiosity, Richard consents to go.

At the meeting Richard again reflects on how dangerously militant the Communists are. He loves their compassion and their vision of the future, but he fears their violent suspicion. he draws parallels between Chicago and the South: in the latter, they hated him for the color of his skin; in the former, they hate him for the "tone of [his] thoughts." Chapter 19, pg. 369 He believes it may be related to reading: he is a self-taught person, passionate about ideas, and that scares a movement that depends on the co-operation of its members in order to literally survive. He explains that Communism is fighting for freedom of thought but is at the same time terrified of it. Still, he views Communism as the only way of life that can accommodate humankind's full potential: he believes that eventually it will win over the entire world. He believes that one can understand the human heart through political movements, and that Communism is the most true.

All of this is communicated to Richard during the trial, which begins with a general overview of Communism's effects throughout the world. Those present then list all of Ross' transgressions, all the times and ways he has challenged the party. He cannot deny it, and breaks down in front of the crowd. He pleads with them, saying that he will reform. Richard notes that Ross, though in disagreement with the party, does not want to leave it: he has fallen in love with the vision of brotherhood of the Communist Party. Richard sees that the party has awakened Ross, rather than brainwashed him. They have made him see how wrong he was, and accepted him completely, trying to make him unified with all the others, through the party. Richard sees this as a glorious thing, steeped in morality. And yet the way they let their ignorance and fear guide them is also horrific to him. Richard leaves the room, overwhelmed. The next day, a single Communist has the courage to see him, apologizing for his past ignorance and saying, "[Last night] was horrible." Chapter 19, pg. 375 Richard is grateful.

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