By: Ebonye Gussine Wilkins
I remember in high school when “Black Boy” by Richard Wright was a required reading for English class. I remember being engrossed in this memoir and feeling a lot of sorrow over the trials and tribulations documented within it. It is based on Wright’s childhood and follows him from the age of four. The story is all too familiar; women holding down the household while men act both irresponsibly and violently without taking responsibility. The crushing realities of his life shaped his lack of religious beliefs later in life.
It contains two parts, which were published at various times under a few different names. “Black Boy” consists of his turbulent childhood which started in the South as he was passed along from relative to relative and forced to do things he didn’t want to in order to survive.
The extreme racism that Wright faced as a child and adult stayed with him all his life. He was born in Mississippi in 1908 and moved to New York in 1937. He was known to have ties with the Communist Party. He sometimes battled with the avoidance of being an “Uncle Tom” but appearing loyal to his own race. He moved to France in 1946 and lived their permanently until his death in 1960.
Photo Credit: Wright in a 1939 photograph by Carl Van Vechten