Killens, John Oliver 1916-1987
John Oliver Killens 1916-1987
American novelist, playwright, essayist, screenplay writer, and biographer.
Killens is considered a master of social protest fiction. As a founding member of the Harlem Writers Guild, an organization that has supported the publication of black writers since 1950, Killens influenced later generations of African American authors and artists, and was a seminal figure in the development of the Black Arts movement of the 1960s, an overtly political push for the use of art and literature to further a black empowerment agenda.
Killens was born in Macon, Georgia, in 1916. His father, who managed a restaurant, and his mother, an insurance agency clerk, were highly literate people who encouraged their children to study and embrace their cultural heritage. Killens attended the segregated Pleasant Hill School until the seventh grade, when he moved to the private Ballard Normal School. After graduating from high school, Killens attended Edward Walters College in Jacksonville, Florida, and Morris Brown College in Atlanta, both historically black institutions. In his contact with white college students in Atlanta Killens encountered a great deal of racism, which informed the beliefs he would later elucidate in his writing. In 1936 Killens left college and moved to Washington, D.C., to work for the National Labor Relations Board. Taking evening classes at Howard University, he earned his bachelor's degree. He entered Robert Terrel Law School in 1939, but left in 1942 to join the army. Killens served in the South Pacific for three years during World War II. When he returned to civilian life in 1946, he decided to pursue a career in writing rather than go back to law school.
He resumed his work with the National Labor Relations Board at its office in New York. Killens joined the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), but he was disappointed in the union's inability to forge a communal spirit between white and black workers. In 1948 he began taking writing courses at Columbia University and New York University, and in 1950 he formed, with John Henrik Clarke, Rosa Guy, and Walter Christmas, the Harlem Writers Guild. In 1955, while doing research for a documentary on the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Killens met with Martin Luther King, Jr. Killens found, however, that the more he learned of King's philosophy, the more he began to side with the views of the more militant black activist Malcolm X. In 1964 Killens, Clarke, and Malcolm X founded the Organization for Afro-American Unity, a group that sought to forward the social and economic position of African Americans by establishing communications with the newly independent nations of Africa. Working as a researcher on a British Broadcast Corporation documentary, Killens visited nearly a dozen African countries in the late 1960s, an experience that made a great impression on him. Beginning in 1965, Killens held writer-in-residence positions at several American universities, including Fisk, Columbia, Howard, and Medgar Evers College, taking time out to travel to the Soviet Union and China in the early 1970s. He served as vice president of the Black Academy of Arts and Letters, and was awarded a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1980. Killens died of cancer in 1987.
In his fiction Killens often drew on his own experiences as an African American growing up in the South and as an adult encountering different but nonetheless disturbing racism in the Northeast. His writings also were strongly influenced by his association with Malcolm X and their mutual belief in the need for black Americans to adopt a radical—and, if necessary, violent—stance against racism. Killens outlined his beliefs in the essays he began publishing in the early 1950s, many of which are collected in the volume Black Man's Burden (1965). In one essay in particular ("The Myth of Non-Violence"), Killens set out a fundamental tenet of his politics and philosophy—his disagreement with Martin Luther King, Jr., on the issue of meeting discrimination with nonviolence. Instead, in that essay and others, Killens aligned himself with the African-centered separatist ideology of Malcolm X, forwarding the notion that blacks must first unite with each other before they could achieve liberation from white oppression. In Killens's first published book, the novel Youngblood (1954), he tells the story of the Youngblood family as they negotiate life in a small Georgia town from the early twentieth century to the 1930s. Published in the same month as the Supreme Court's landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, which overturned the country's "separate but equal" laws forcing blacks to attend separate schools, Youngblood portrays the survival skills used by Southern blacks to avoid discrimination and attain justice, offering an unflinching depiction of the daily brutalities—literal and symbolic—suffered by African Americans.
In his next novel, And Then We Heard the Thunder (1963), Killens took on racism in the U.S. military. Set largely in the South Pacific during World War II, the novel examines the abuses suffered by black soldiers and questions how the United States could defeat fascism with an undemocratic military. Killens's novel 'Sippi (1967) takes up the continuing political and social injustices in the post-Brown v. Board of Education South, depicting the interaction of two Mississippi families, one white and one black. When the self-described socially progressive patriarch of the white Wakefield family offers to pay for the college education of his African American friend's youngest son, it is with the caveat that the young man act as a vocal moderate and try to turn other blacks away from the Black Power movement. Inspired by the work of Malcolm X and Paul Robeson, the novel's revolutionary central point is made by the young man's father when he tells his son to "live like a man. And die like one when the time comes." In The Cotillion (1971), which he later adapted for the stage, Killens satirized the black bourgeoisie's attempts to adopt white values and habits, especially black women's attempts to live up to the beauty standards of white culture. In the novel, the members of a black women's club from a Brooklyn neighborhood take it upon themselves to "adopt" five female residents of a poorer neighborhood in Harlem, admitting them into their club to give them instruction in white-style dancing, manners, and personal grooming, with the ultimate goal of attending a Grand Cotillion. Published posthumously, Great Black Russian: A Novel on the Life and Times of Alexander Pushkin (1989) is an expansive fictional biography that centers on the African ancestry of Alexander Pushkin—widely considered one of the fathers of Russian literature—and its influence on his decision to pursue a life in literature.
As a major figure in the American civil rights era and the concurrent Black Arts movement, Killens received a fair amount of critical and media attention. His novels were regularly reviewed in mainstream publications and were generally lauded as outstanding portraits of the black American experience, although critics were divided over both 'Sippi and The Cotillion. Many regarded the former as having a leaden narrative with little purpose and the latter as being too bawdy and clownish to make its point successfully. Nevertheless, Killens was nominated for two Pulitzer Prizes—first in 1963 for And Then We Heard the Thunder and again in 1971 for The Cotillion. In general, Youngblood is considered the best work in Killens's fictional oeuvre, while his nonfiction continues to influence new generations of readers.
Youngblood (novel) 1954
Odds against Tomorrow (screenplay) 1960
And Then We Heard the Thunder (novel) 1963
Ballad of the Winter Soldiers (play) 1964
Black Man's Burden (essays) 1965
Lower Than the Angels (play) 1965
'Sippi (novel) 1967
Slaves (screenplay) 1969
The Cotillion or One Good Bull Is Half the Herd (novel) 1971
Great Gittin' up Morning: A Biography of Denmark Vesey (biography) 1972
Cotillion [adapted from his novel The Cotillion or One Good Bull in Half the Herd] (play) 1975
A Man Ain't Nothin' But a Man: The Adventures of John Henry (novel) 1975
Great Black Russian: A Novel on the Life and Times of Alexander Pushkin (novel) 1989
Reginald Watson (essay date June 2000)
SOURCE: Watson, Reginald. "Mulatto as Object in Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God and John O. Killens's The Cotillion." CLA Journal 43, no. 4 (June 2000): 383-406.
[In the following essay, Watson explores Killens's portrayal of members of the upwardly mobile, mixed-race black middle class who identify closely with white culture in The Cotillion.]
The mulatto as image of ridicule is represented in Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God and John O. Killens's The Cotillion, works that feature mulattos who aspire to achieve recognition through the attainment of white values. Many mulattos in the black middle class mimicked the values of white society, and some even "passed" on either a permanent or temporary basis to obtain status and wealth. With the coming of the Harlem Renaissance came a renewed sense of pride in the black race, and, in the literature of the period, most attempts to gain "whiteness" were severely criticized.
Works written during the Harlem Renaissance (1920-1940), protested against any light-skinned, bourgeois member who adamantly displayed a hatred for all things black. Such protest would only get stronger, particularly as blacks gained more self-pride and knowledge. However, prior to the beginning of the movement, there were many events which helped set the foundation for Black Renaissance pride and unity. In the period between 1900 and 1915, mulattos and pure-blooded blacks were coming together as a united force, while more black schools and organizations were formed to teach about the importance of African heritage. The NAACP was founded in 1909; the first black history books were written by Carter G. Woodson in 1915; and during World War I, blacks would prove themselves in battle. So when the Harlem Renaissance began around 1920, light and dark-skinned blacks were ready to show America and the world that they were capable of achievement in all areas of the arts and sciences. It is the literature of the period, however, that best distinguishes the Harlem Renaissance. Black and even white novelists were writing about "blackness." Many of these authors would attack the emptiness and hypocrisy of black bourgeois values, and the mulatto character was their main target.
By the beginning of the Harlem Renaissance movement, most exclusive, blue-vein organizations set up by mulattos had been disbanded as pure and light-skinned blacks came together under one banner, although there were still middle-class blacks who aspired to be "white." In some cities there were even neighborhoods and blocks set aside specifically for only light-skinned blacks. Such situations and attitudes would be attacked in the literature of the period, particularly in works that featured tragic endings for all black characters who hated themselves and their heritage. However, during and after the Harlem Renaissance, there would be many writers who would take a more humorous approach in their critique of those blacks who chose to ignore their "black" roots. According to Judith Berzon, many Renaissance writers wanted "to unite ‘dickty’ [member of the black bourgeoisie] and ‘rat’ [member of the black folk],"1 a dynamic that comes out in two mulatto characters of Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937). One mulatto character, Janie, becomes a member of both the bourgeois and "folk" worlds. The other mulatto character, Mrs. Turner, is representative of black self-hatred, and she stands in direct opposition to the Harlem Renaissance's black-pride philosophy.
Emphasis on the importance of black pride would carry over to the Post-Renaissance phase and the black Soul Movement, a period in which John O. Killens wrote The Cotillion (1971), a work that, like Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, highlights the importance of black pride and harshly critiques the false value systems of the black bourgeoisie. Killens's work is reflective of the Soul Movement, which was built on the foundation of the Harlem Renaissance. In fact, according to Joel Williamson, by the end of the Renaissance, the integration of blacks and mulattos had already proceeded so far as to establish, genetically, the brown American as a norm, and in this "second Reconstruction" period the Civil Rights and "Soul" movements were fueled by the foundation of the previous Harlem Renaissance.2 By 1956 the Soul Movement began to take shape when black Americans decided that they did not want to be "merely white Americans with dark skins."3 As it once was in the Harlem Renaissance, "Black Power" and glorification of blackness was again the focus as leaders like Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, and Rap Brown criticized integration and stressed Black Nationalism. At times, violence displaced nonviolence as riots began in some major cities across America, while the symbol of "raised black fists replaced the inter-looking of black and white arms and singing of ‘We Shall Overcome.’" 4 During the Soul Movement there was no longer any elite group in control as young black artists with various economic backgrounds came to the forefront with Moslem names and African dress. This new group insisted on being called "Afro-American," not "Negro," and their spirit of racial unity and black pride would be reflected in Killens's The Cotillion. Killens's message about the importance of black pride has its roots in Zora Neale Hurston and the Harlem Renaissance.
Zora Neale Hurston was one Harlem Renaissance writer who tried to capture the dialect and social practices of black culture, and in her Their Eyes Were Watching God, she takes a light-hearted approach in presenting characters that symbolize not only the importance of black pride but also the negativity of self-hatred. Mrs. Turner is representative of this black self-hatred because she is a light-skinned woman who worships "whiteness" and bourgeois standards. According to Eva Lennox Birch, Hurston clearly disliked blacks "who aped whites,"5 and through Mrs. Turner, Hurston manages to emphasize the importance of identity and how self-hatred is sometimes an obsession among African Americans.
When Hurston introduces Mrs. Turner, she describes her as a "milky" looking woman who belonged to childbed. Such a reference may have its roots in the general scientific and social misrepresentations of the mulatto. For example, it was widely believed by many in white society that most biracial subjects were more intelligent than their pure-blooded counterparts, but weaker in their physical makeup. In fact, it was also believed that mulattos tended to be more cunning criminals. (Their black blood made them criminal; their white blood made them more intelligent criminals.) It was also said that mulattos could see better at night because of their mixed blood. Such were the ridiculous claims and beliefs that Hurston may have been satirizing and alluding to in her creation of Mrs. Turner, a woman who is described as having a difficult time in giving birth. She is also depicted as very sneaky and cunning because she constantly plots to ruin Janie's marriage to a much darker-skinned Tea Cake, a fact which is evidenced in Hurston's mocking description of Turner's almost psychotic obsession with Caucasian characteristics:
But Mrs. Turner's shape and features were entirely approved by Mrs. Turner. Her nose was slightly pointed and she was proud. Her thin lips were ever a delight to her eyes. Even her buttocks in bas-relief were a source of pride. To her way of thinking all these things set her aside from Negroes. That was why she sought out Janie to friend with. Janie's coffee-and-cream complexion and her luxurious hair made Mrs. Turner forgive her for wearing overalls like the other women who worked in the fields. She didn't forgive her for marrying a man as dark as Tea Cake, but she felt that she could remedy that. That was what her brother was born for.6
Mrs. Turner had deluded herself into thinking that Caucasian features alone will set her above the darker-skinned folk. She even starts to "worship" Janie, a concept on which Hurston skillfully plays in the following lines:
Mrs. Turner, like all other believers, had built an altar to the unattainable—Caucasian characteristics for all. Her god would smite her, would hurl her from pinnacles and lose her in deserts, but she would not forsake his altars. Behind her crude words was a belief that somehow she and others through worship could attain her paradise—a heaven of straight-haired, thin-lipped, high nose boned white seraphs.
In this humorous, mocking passage, which refers to the title of the novel, Hurston ridicules Mrs. Turner and her fanatical belief that "white" features will be her "pathway" to a better life. According to Gay Wilentz, Turner functions as an example of how warped an individual can become when he or she chooses the white man as his or her god.7 In fact, Mrs. Turner is willing to accept the harshest punishment from anyone who looked more "white folkish than herself" (138).
Janie's husband, Tea Cake, senses that Mrs. Turner does not like him, and the disdain is reciprocated. This is particularly brought out when Hurston describes Tea Cake as one who constantly "made fun of Mrs. Turner's shape behind her back. He claimed that she had been shaped up by a cow kicking her from behind. She was an ironing board with things throwed at it. Then that same cow stepped in her mouth when she was a baby and left it wide and flat with her chin and nose almost meeting" (134). However, Mrs. Turner approved of her Caucasian features, and one day when she decides to visit Janie, a woman who has become the embodiment of all that Turner desires, Mrs. Turner tries to convince her to "class off" and disassociate herself from the dark-skinned folk on the muck of the everglades. Mrs. Turner displays her feelings of superiority by suggesting that she and Janie are better than darker-skinned blacks: "You'se different from me. Ah can't stand black niggers. Ah don't blame the white folks for hatin' 'em 'cause Ah can't stand 'em mahself. Nother thing. Ah hates tuh see folks lak me and you mixed up wid 'em. Us oughta class off" (135). According to Judith Berzon, Turner's attitude was built upon "the hoped-for result of biological assimilation," and Hurston seems to be satirizing how some light-skinned blacks had a desire to create "a race of lighter-skinned Negroes who would be reborn as white people."8 When Janie asks the question "How come you so against black?" (135), Mrs. Turner, in response, immediately continues her downgrading of her own people by saying:
"Tain't de poorness, it's de color and de features. Who want any lil ole black baby layin' up in the baby buggy lookin' lak uh fly in buttermilk? Who wants to be mixed up wid uh rusty black man and uh black woman goin' down de street in all dem loud colors, and whoopin' and hollerin' and laughin' over nothin'?"
In another satirical move, Hurston allows Turner to personify another major problem in the black community: blacks refusing to support black enterprises. For example, Turner makes it clear that only white doctors will get her money. To her, blacks "don't know nothin' 'bout no business" (136), but ironically, Turner seems to overlook the fact that she, too, is "colored" and that, to some in white society, her store could be considered a "nigger" establishment. She also neglects to realize that the black people she so hates and despises are the very people who keep her "colored store" in operation. This contradiction in terms is something that Tea Cake and his compatriots address when they intentionally start a brawl in Mrs. Turner's store, an event which ultimately wrecks the woman's establishment. Upon finding her store in shambles, Mrs. Turner immediately sees her husband, Mr. Turner, sitting in a corner smoking a pipe: "What kinda man is you, Turner? You see dese no count niggers come in heah and break up mah place! How kin you set and see yo' wife all trompled on?" (145). When Mr. Turner removes his pipe, he makes the following comment: "Yeah, and you see how Ah did swell up too, didn't yuh? You tell Tea Cake he better be keerful Ah don't swell up again" (145). In this scene, Hurston may again be playing off the general conception of mulattos as being physically ineffective, because when it comes to being a fighter, Mr. Turner can only, at best, "swell up" in anger. So Tea Cake does get sweet revenge, but more importantly, one can see how in subtle fashion Mr. Turner may have relished Tea Cake's victory.
Mrs. Turner's fanaticism becomes even worse when she thinks about Tea Cake, a man who she feels is not worthy of Janie and her "altar"; "[S]he hated Tea Cake first for his defilement of divinity and next for his telling mockery of her. If she only knew something she could do about it" (139). Eventually, Mrs. Turner does decide to do "something" about Tea Cake by continuing her efforts in trying to match her light-skinned brother with Janie, an act which indirectly leads to the tragedy of Tea Cake's death.
In contrast to Mrs. Turner, Janie is a positive mulatto image who never desired to leave the simplicity of her roots and the "folk." She left the "big house" and Joe Starks, her abusive second husband, aspiring for love, not greatness and material gain. Although she was deified by Mrs. Turner and others on the muck, she never lost touch with her identity and goals. Mrs. Turner's ridiculous image only helps highlight Janie's noble persona; and in the presentation of these characters, Hurston achieves a balanced view of the light-skinned black person, and, at the same time, teaches a valuable lesson about the importance of self-pride and racial unity.
In John O'Killens's The Cotillion, the image of ridicule is Mrs. Daphne Lovejoy, a woman who, like Mrs. Turner, aspires after "whiteness" and the attainment of bourgeois standards. According to Berzon, "Killens writes about a black world that reflects both the old and the new attitudes of black people: he portrays those who still cling to the ‘white aesthetic’ and those who joyfully embrace the ‘black aesthetic.’"9 Throughout the novel, it becomes clear that Mrs. Daphne Doreen Braithwaite Lovejoy wishes to "cling" to the "white aesthetic."
Born in Barbados to a white father and a mother who was a black field hand, Daphne takes joy and pride in her Caucasian ancestry while constantly striving for the bourgeois lifestyle. Like Hurston's Mrs. Turner, Daphne practically "worships" white features and standards, as is shown in her abnormal admiration for her Scottish father, who had over eleven black concubines and numerous "yaller" children. In Daphne's eyes, her mother was "lucky" to be one of Angus Braithwaite's concubines, as Daphne makes clear when talking to her daughter, Yoruba:
Don't vex me, child. Your grandmammy was a black woman, a common negra. Not bad-looking for a field negra. But your grandfather was a great, handsome, grand gentleman. He did Maggie a favor to take her out the cane field.
Daphne had contempt for all things black, which becomes clear when she downgrades and calls her own mother an "impudent negra" who
didn't appreciate what my father was doing for her. He tried to uplift her but she wouldn't be uplifted. She was an ungrateful wretch. Always overstepping the boundaries of her position. That is why he finally had to throw her out. She was a sassy negra. That is why I got disinherited. It was all her fault.
With such a statement, it is hard not to laugh at Daphne, whom some jokingly call "daffy" because of her ridiculous pretensions to white standards. But like Hurston, Killens shows the serious effects of how self-hatred can lead to a type of "neurosis" that can ultimately lead to the denial of one's own parent. Such is the case with Daphne, who blames her mother's "blackness" and "impudence" for her own disinheritance. Throughout the novel, Daphne "worships" her cruel white father and shows contempt for her poor black mother. She, in a sense, takes on the persona and language of the white slave master, as is demonstrated by the constant derogatory references to her mother as a "wretch" and "negra."
Throughout the novel Daphne tries to instill white, bourgeois values in her daughter, Yoruba Evelyn Lovejoy, a woman who, like Hurston's Janie, was very comfortable in her "black" ancestry. In physical appearance, she is described as having her father's color and her mother's slender nose, high cheek bones, and long beautiful hair. Yoruba can technically be called a mulatto because her grandfather was white, but she is, along with her father, Matt, and boyfriend, Ben Ali Lumumba, a true representative of the "black" aesthetic. Unfortunately, Yoruba is caught in the middle of the dialectic between her mother and father. But despite this, it becomes clear that Yoruba is "predisposed to accept her father's black pride as her own; although, at times, she finds it difficult to completely reject her mother's [Anglo] bourgeois expectations."10 Like Janie in Hurston's work, Yoruba does finally "come out" and becomes complete in acceptance of herself and her black heritage.
The Cotillion or grand ball is the main focus of the novel because it is where the true hypocrisy and sterility of black bourgeois life are clearly reflected. An elite woman's club called the "Femmes Fatales" sponsors the annual grand ball, and the light-skinned daughters of doctors, lawyers, and other "respectable" figures are invited to attend. However, at the urging of a down-to-earth committee member named Mrs. Brapbap, this policy is temporarily changed to invite at least five of Harlem's darker-skinned "unfortunates" to the Cotillion, and soon afterwards, Yoruba is invited.
Daphne, in her bourgeois aspirations, immediately rejoices and, in a sense, starts to "worship" the event. Daphne feels that the affair will make a "lady" out of Yoruba, but Matt Lovejoy shows his contempt for the ball and the women who sponsor it. He refers to the Femmes Fatales as "Fems Fat tails" while he criticizes the ball and his wife's petty, bourgeois aspirations. After sarcastically calling his wife "Lady Daphne," Matt proceeds to chastise her for giving hundreds of dollars to "the white folks," especially when such money would be needed for Yoruba's education at Howard University (57). When Yoruba agrees with Matt and announces that she will go to the predominantly black institution, Daphne quickly shows her contempt and declares that her daughter would never be sent to a historically black school: "That's some of your father's ignorant foolishness, but I don't mean for you to get no nigger education. What do you think I've gone deprived and toiled and struggled all these years for?" (57). To Daphne blackness is not synonymous with quality. Like Mrs. Turner, who did not want "nigger" doctors to treat her, Daphne makes it obvious that she does not want any "nigger" teachers to educate her daughter.
Like Hurston's Mrs. Turner, Daphne "classes" herself off from the rest of the black race and demeans darker-skinned people. According to Berzon, she fancies herself a "queen" and aristocrat: "She denies the beauty of her black heritage as powerfully as she affirms the majesty of her white ancestry."11 Even though she is married to Matt, a dark-skinned man, Daphne constantly reaffirms the "majesty" or superiority of her "whiteness" by ridiculing his "blackness." To Daphne, Matt is "ignorant" and she constantly apologizes for him when he displays defiance. In talking to Yoruba about the Cotillion, Daphne shows her self-confidence and belief in her own superiority by saying,
Oh, Eve-lyn, my dear, let us stop fooling with each other…. You ain't have to put on an act for your mother's benefit. You know you want to be in the Cotillion. You know you want all the things I want for you. It's just that you feel you have to pretend to understand and sympathize with your ignorant father…. I don't hold his color against him, Eve-lyn.
Yoruba is caught between the conflicting ideologies of her parents, and this is made evident in the different ways they address her. Matt Lovejoy calls her "Yoruba," and Daphne calls her "Eve-lyn," names that clearly reflect the parents' value systems. Even though Yoruba is dark like her father, Daphne still approves of her because she has Caucasian features.
Throughout the work, Killens uses religious imagery in reference to Daphne's obsession with "whiteness." For example, Daphne is described as having "crosses" to bear. As Mrs. Turner had her "altar" of white features to worship, Daphne had her "crosses" or "burdens" of trying to gain and retain white standards for herself and Yoruba. One of the may "crosses" was her constant effort in trying to make her daughter into a "lady" of the upper classes. Yoruba tolerates but does not totally welcome her mother's attempts and beliefs because she does not wish to be part of the black bourgeoisie and its empty value system. Ben Ali Lumumba and her father are strong representatives of the "folk" world, and Yoruba expresses a desire to be part of it.
Like Hurston's Mrs. Turner, Daphne speaks in dialect, and at times her attempts at trying to sound sophisticated are humorously indicative of a person who wants status but does not have the "tools" of social training to gain and keep it. In talking to her husband, Matt, Daphne criticizes a neighboring black family for being "poor" and "uncultured": "One of these days you'll listen to me, damn your Black soul. I tell you a million times these damn low-class darkies on this block is no damn good! Nothing but a bunch of wort'less vagabunds. I ain't blame the white man for not wanting to live around them" (22).
Daphne then goes on to express her desire to expose Yoruba to cultural breeding. She continues to speak in dialect while making it clear that she does not want Yoruba to mingle with the "wor'less pickaninnies on the block" (22), and she blames her husband for his stubborn defiance of such an attempt: "But the more I try to culturize her, the more you pull the other way. You're enough to vex the devil himself" (22). However, as can be seen in Daphne's dialogue, Daphne is not far from being "uncultured" herself. The reader can not help but laugh at Daphne's nonstandard use of the English language when words like "vagabund" and "culturize" come from her mouth. Yet, like Hurston's Mrs. Turner, Daphne does not see her own contradictions and shortcomings, a fact which is made evident when the Cotillion becomes an obsession for her.
Daphne's worship of white standards comes to the surface even more when she talks to Yoruba about the Cotillion: "You are indeed a lucky one, Eve-lyn. And of all the scrumptious places, it will be held downtown at the Waldorf, where few white folks get a chance to go and decidedly no niggers at all" (26). In response, Matt sums up these ludicrous aspirations for "whiteness" by comparing the Cotillion to cattle ranching:
Ask any cattle rancher…. One good bull's worth half the herd. Get yourself a bull that's good and strong, one of them that can last the whole fifteen rounds, and you naturally in bizness. This ain't no three-round fight. He got to have lasting power, cause them heifers'll damn sure work him overtime.
When Daphne hears this, she has a temper tantrum and calls her husband an "ignorant black man" who was "pretending to intelligence" (137), but Matt goes on to say,
That's the whole trouble with you colored peoples imitating white folks. You try to do everything they do, without even knowing how come they doing what they doing in the first place, or the second place, either one. You like a monkey with a straight razor. You cut your damn throat tryna imitate your master.
So Matt, who like his daughter is a representative of the black aesthetic, becomes a very effective and sometimes humorous voice of protest that makes Daphne look even sillier.
Matt believe that the mimicking of white society only puts blacks in increased debt, and to him the "ladies" and their escorts in the Cotillion were no more than participants in an animalistic and useless ritual of courtship and white emulation. The verbal warfare between Daphne and Matt is clearly a battle between black pride and black self-hatred; in this scene and throughout the work, Killens allows Matt and his black consciousness to win over Daphne's bourgeois aspirations.
Yoruba is definitely presented as a symbol of the Soul Movement because her name was given by her father to honor "Africa" and black pride, not false bourgeois values. During a period when most blacks were spending time in the sun to get blacker, Yoruba was enthusiastically embracing her African heritage and beginning to see only negative things associated with light-skin:
Yoruba had been to Black happenings where the brothers and the sisters of the darkest complexions did violent putdowns on those unfortunates of the lighter hues, all in the spirit of Black unity. She had even caught herself at evil moments, bugging her own mother because her mother's color had suddenly become unstylish as if her mother had ordered her pigmentation COD from Macy's.
So, in Killens's novel, the black Soul Movement is vividly reflected by Yoruba, who sees light skin as a "natural drag" in a world where the rule was "the blacker the berries, the rarer and more exquisite the wines" (76). However, it is not until Yoruba meets Ben Ali Lumumba that she becomes fully independent of her mother's influence and control. Like Hurston's Janie and Tea Cake, Killens's Yoruba and Ben Lumumba are strong symbols of pure spirituality, love, and black consciousness, qualities that Killens clearly associated with the black Soul Movement.
Daphne is strongly committed to protecting Yoruba from Ben Ali Lumumba and the blackness he represents. To Daphne, the dark-skinned Lumumba is a threat to Yoruba's innocence and culture. Through him, Daphne knows that her "Eve-lyn" will soon turn completely into "Yoruba." In fact, Daphne feels this threat even when Ben Ali is a young, "snot-nosed" boy named Ernie. It was his family that Daphne had severely criticized because they were not as "well-off" as her family. But even at this stage Yoruba is infatuated with him and invites Ernie over for dinner. Daphne immediately scolds her daughter for having "puppy love" for such a poor "nigger," and during the dinner Daphne demeans the young boy for having a two-room apartment with a toilet that had to be shared by other tenants.
The theme of "naming" is important in this novel, as is demonstrated when, through the Black Power movement, "little Ernie" is transformed into "Ben Ali Lumumba." Upon his return to present-day Harlem as a man, the "puppy-love" between him and Yoruba becomes a fully grown relationship. Thus, Daphne is again threatened because she knows that Ben Ali has strengthened the "Yoruba" side of her daughter.
When Yoruba begins to date Lumumba, Daphne once again shows her hatred for "blackness" by referring to Ben Ali as a "Woolly-headed nigger" that just "got captured in the jungles of Africa" (106). She calls her daughter a "common nigger woman" for coming in late from her date with Ben, and, like Hurston's Mrs. Turner, Daphne tries to play "mulatto-matchmaker" by saying to Yoruba, "I told you I wanted you to marry a fair-skinned colored man, so your children will be lighter than you and have a better chance in life. You're an American!" (106).
However, Yoruba is more than just an "American," because she symbolically represents Africa, a continent that is considered the "Motherland" and "Birthplace" of humanity. So it would appear that Killens intentionally uses her as a symbol of growth and renewal in the Soul Movement. When she connects with Ben Ali, the chances for the black race's "rebirth" seem to become even stronger, especially when she chooses Ben Ali Lumumba as her escort to the ball. A horrified Daphne expresses her disappointment:
No! No! No! You can't do this to me! Eve-lyn! Dearie, how can you hate your mother so? Lord, Savior, look at my crosses! See my crosses, blessed boychild of the Holy Virgin! After all I went through kissing all them haughty nigger asses to get you into this damn Cotillion!
In these lines, the religious imagery of the "cross" is invoked by Daphne while she chastises Yoruba for inviting Lumumba to the Cotillion. In Daphne's eyes, Lumumba represents defilement of pure divinity because Yoruba will always be her "lady Eve-lyn," a symbol of the biblical Eve and the innocence of the Garden of Eden.
Yoruba is a symbol of one's struggle with having a black identity in a white world. According to Berzon, her character is a reflection of the dialectic at work within the black community,12 because, like so many African Americans, she is caught in the middle of the black and white aesthetics. This is particularly evidenced when, in the "upper crust" Cotillion world, she must be "Lady Eve-lyn," a representative of all things pure and unspotted.13
Killens presents a scene involving the Femmes Fatales to help bring out this theme of purity and innocence. This is seen in the words of Prissy Patterson, one of the bourgeois committee members, who says that Evelyn and all the other young ladies have been thoroughly investigated and have
passed with flying colors. Your records are pure and spotless. There are no black marks in your records. Nothing black at all. Nothing black at all. You are all virgins and you must remain white and spotless and virginal until the Grand Cotillion is over.
Subsequently, however, Yoruba does not feel comfortable in her role as "Lady Eve-lyn," and soon after meets the "woolly-headed" Lumumba, her "spotless," "virginal" status is no more. Symbolically, then, she takes the "apple" of black pride and love offered to her by Lumumba, an act that eventually "expels" her from the Edenic Garden of white bourgeois standards. She desires to escape the "emptiness" and transpar- ency of the Cotillion because she wants to retain her "Yoruba" identity. Yoruba, for the sake of her mother, feels she must temporarily wear a "white mask" over the "black skin" of her true and more real identity. Thus she chooses to go to the Cotillion, but only if she is allowed to go with her only true link to black consciousness: Ben Ali Lumumba. After making the decision to take Lumumba, Yoruba becomes a pure "black" symbol who strives to keep her black nationalism and pride "virginal" and free from the taint of false and petty bourgeois aspirations.
Daphne is the major character of ridicule in Killens's work, but the parody of her and the black bourgeoisie extends to other characters as well. Mrs. Priscilla Patterson is one of these characters, a woman whom Killens describes as a "tall, skinny, thin-legged mama, aquiline and eagle-beaked and owl-eyed" in appearance (77). By some of the "debutantes" she was nicknamed "Prissy Pat" or "Miss Pee Pee" because she always tried to talk and act "refined." In her explanation of the origins of the Femmes Fatales, she tries to connect herself and the organization to an imagined "white" aristocracy. However, Mrs. Brapbap, the down-to-earth member of the committee, immediately interrupts Prissy and promptly reminds everyone present that the group did not have any white, aristocratic origins, and that, at best, Prissy's aristocracy was "an aristocracy of the niggeratti" (140). After laughter breaks out, Prissy chastises Brap-bap for her rude interruption and then proceeds to tell the group that her father was a great man who "foundered" the Cotillion in the "good old days," a time when "niggers were not allowed" in the grand event (140). Yoruba, in seeing Prissy's contradictions, sarcastically asks the question, "Was your father a white man?" (140). After Prissy assures Yoruba that her father was not white, she is bombarded by other questions.
At this point, Killens describes Patterson's frustration as she tells the group that her father was not black, Indian, or a "saltwater Geechie," and with her "red-haired wig about to fall off," Miss Prissy manages to say that her father was an "aristocrat from South Carolina" (140). When someone asks, "What race or nation put out aristocrats" (140), Prissy, still trying to avoid calling her father black, goes through numerous mulatto classifications until Mrs. Brap-bap once again intervenes:
"In other words … an octoroon is a Negro, a quadroon is a Negro, a mulatto is a Negro, a Negro is a Negro is a Negro, and after all your shucking and jiving, your founding father wasn't nothing but a spook whose mother got messed over by a white man."
In these lines, Mrs. Brap-bap reminds Prissy of society's racial "one-drop" rule which dictated that any trace of Negro ancestry would make one black. In a sense, Prissy, with her refusal to acknowledge the reality of her father's Negro ancestry, tries to reverse the "one-drop" designation by attaching more importance to the smallest percentage of white, rather than black, ancestry. Prissy and Daphne believe that bloodlines automatically give them status, and through the mimicking of white society, they feel this status would only improve. This is evident when, in response to Brap-bap's statement, Prissy says, "I have whiter blood than anybody in the Femmes Fatales!" (141). Mrs. Brap-bap, who is seemingly the only voice of sincerity and reason among the committee members, sums up the pathetic tendencies among the black bourgeois class to imitate white standards. "They outwhited the rich white folks. From Friday through Sunday," she says, describing the so-called "First Black families" of Harlem (142).
In addition to Prissy Patterson, there are other ridiculous characters, including an old white instructor who is hired to teach the young ladies how to dance properly for the Cotillion ball. However, Yoruba, who becomes the old man's favorite dancer, soon finds out that he is not a "harmless" old man but a drunken and talentless pretender who eventually tries to sexually assault her. So the dance instructor, like most of the Femmes Fatales, is insincere and pathetic, characteristics that Yoruba abhors. With every contradiction she sees in this bourgeois world, she grows stronger in her connections to black pride, despite her mother's disapproval.14
In the novel, Killens manages to give a more complete picture of black pride versus self-hatred, and in contrast to Hurston he does this by allowing his characters to become redeemed and transformed in a positive way. According to Berzon, "Killens emphasizes not only the importance of anger as represented by Ben Lumumba and Matt, but also the importance of going beyond that anger—toward love and acceptance" that would, hopefully, lead to complete black unity.15 For example, Ben Ali Lumumba, in his decision to go with Yoruba to the ball, is the first character to show a willingness to compromise and change his views in order to fully understand people like Daphne, who feel that they must worship all things white:
After a while I said to myself, why the hell not? Can it do me any harm? Am I so damn delicate that I'm scared that in rubbing elbows with my Black bourgeois brothers and sisters more of them will rub off on me than of me rub off on them? If I'm that insecure, my Black Consciousness must be pretty thin and superficial. I mean, they're part of the Black and Beautiful thing as much as anybody else. Every father's child of us has been brainwashed with the whitewash. All of us is trying to make that journey home.
By this time, Yoruba has very strong black convictions that are part of the reason she becomes disappointed in Lumumba's willingness to compromise with her mother. In what seems to be a summary of Killens's message about the importance of black unity, Lumumba responds with the following statement:
"I'm on your side my queen. And we're both on the side of Black folks. And your mother is not the enemy. She just truly ain't the enemy. If she is, then we are in a real big hurt. Cause your mother is where a whole heap of the Black and beautiful people of the Black Nation are at. I mean like, she goes overboard, I will admit. Out to lunch indefinitely. Miss Daphne is a caricature of her own dear bourgeois self. I mean, most of the time, she ain't to be believed, okay. But face it, she is Black, she is of the Nation whether she wants to be or not, she lives in the blackest of Black neighborhoods, she is working class to the core. I mean, she sure ain't middle class. She's just got her head messed up with bourgeois aspirations. I mean, your mother is the Black masses that we're supposed to be fighting for. If we can't dig what's bugging her, forget it."
Ben's words are clearly reflective of the Soul Movement and the importance of black unity. In his view, even people like Daphne are essential to and part of the Black Nation. In Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, such compromise was nonexistent, as could be seen in the relationship between Tea Cake and Mrs. Turner.
Killens, then, does not make Daphne a one-dimensional and totally absurd character. Unlike Hurston's Mrs. Turner, who never mentally grows beyond her unrealistic desires and worship at the "altar" of white features, Killens's Daphne does become redeemed, particularly after Ben Lumumba's efforts to enlighten her. This is brought out when Ben arranges for himself, Yoruba, and Daphne to work at a white Cotillion. By this arrangement, Lumumba hopes that Daphne will see firsthand the "decadence of white society." Lumumba's plans are successful because the white Cotillion eventually transforms from a respectable affair into a drug-infested, drunken orgy. After being a witness to this event, Daphne gains her own "transformation" or positive epiphany about her longtime foolish "worship" of unworthy idols:
[A]ll my life I live a lie. Kuh-deah! Worshipping the memory of my father, a white man who look upon me as one of his pickaninnies. I got to hold onto something. I keep thinking even if it ain't real. I know now I been a vain, foolish woman all my life, but I always love my family, you and Matthew, and I going always love you.
At this point, it would seem that Daphne's "crosses" have been uplifted because, unlike Mrs. Turner, she recognizes her own stupidity and manages to regain some pride and self-respect. In a sense, she loses her sterility by regaining her motherly affections for Yoruba and moving more towards love for her husband, Matt. Consequently, Daphne even begins to call her daughter "Yoruba" rather than "Lady Eve-lyn," a fact which points, again, to the importance of not only transformation, but names and naming in the work.
However, Daphne does not totally abandon the black Cotillion, and she tells Ben and Yoruba that she will work on making the black event more stylish and elegant than its counterpart. So the black Cotillion does go on, but it, too, becomes "transformed" when Ben and Yoruba succeed at making it an affair that highlights black pride, not white bourgeois standards. To everyone's surprise, Ben, Yoruba, and at least two other debutants come to the ball with "natural" Afros, dressed in African robes.
At this point, most of the major characters take what Killens calls their "journey home" by experiencing final and more complete "transformations" (227). Yoruba is one example of this because, upon feeling excited about the showing of "blackness" at the Cotillion, she immediately experiences an inner epiphany:
Now I know the truer deeper meaning of Cotillion. Coming out! Yes! Coming out! I am a debutante coming out of my old self into a new society. She felt cotillionized for real. It was her grand debut into the maturation of her Blackness. The true Rites of Cotillion had begun with her. Metamorphosis!
Like Hurston's Janie, Yoruba becomes complete, and it is due largely to Lumumba, the man she calls her "Captain."
The Cotillion becomes a strong central motif through which even Daphne makes a final and more meaningful transformation. This is made evident when Ben and Yoruba's showing of black pride effectively en- rages some and inspires others at the Grand Cotillion. Amidst the confusion, Prissy still tries to hold on to her bourgeois beliefs as she grabs Daphne by the shoulders saying, "You don't have to go! You don't have to go! We know you didn't know about it! … Stay with us, my diamond in the rough. My precious diamond in the rough! You understand!" (255). However, by this point, the black aesthetic has been empowered, and even Daphne no longer feels the need to pretend anymore. Black pride has now totally triumphed over the evils of racial self-hatred and false bourgeois aspirations. Positive transformation is symbolized in Lady Daphne herself as she stands for "an endless moment (seemed a life-time) torn between the old and new, between illusion and reality" (255-56). Eventually, Daphne, like her daughter, starts to feel "taller" and stronger in her black pride convictions, especially when she turns her back on "dear Priscilla" and joins her family. At this point, Daphne also make the "journey home," a fitting metaphor because "home" signifies not only a return to black unity, but a reestablishment of family bonding and motherhood for Daphne. According to Berzon, "Daphne is able to complete her journey home because of the love and faith in all black people,"16 and it is Ben Ali Lumumba who has helped her regain these connections. Addison Gayle, Jr., calls Killens a "novelist of love" because The Cotillion expresses his love for his people and his beliefs in black pride and unity.17
Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God and Killens's The Cotillion are works that contain a balanced representation of black pride and black self-hatred. In Hurston's work, Janie is the positive, not-bourgeois mulatto character who has to fight against the unrealistic aspirations of others in order to gain her own independent "voice" and identity. Yoruba is Janie's counterpart in Killens's work, because, like Janie, she is a positive symbol of growth and black pride. On the other hand, the images of ridicule, Mrs. Turner and Daphne Lovejoy, are two characters who strive for white acceptance and bourgeois values. Religious imagery is dominant in both novels, because each image of ridicule worships whiteness: Mrs. Turner built an altar to Caucasian features, while Daphne built an altar to her white father and the Cotillion event. Unfortunately, Mrs. Turner does not change in her aspirations for the unattainable, but, on a more positive note, Daphne does "transform" and shed her ridiculous expectations. When she does this, her "crosses" and burdens disappear and she is able to reestablish family bonds. So both works, although humorous, manage to relay a serious message about the importance of self-identity, pride, and unity, elements that are essential in the continuing struggle not only for equal rights but also for a harmonious relationship among all races.
1. Judith Berzon, Neither White Nor Black: The Mulatto Character in American Fiction (New York: New York UP, 1978) 65.
3. Williamson 182.
4. Williamson 184.
5. Eva Lennox Birch, Black American Women's Writing: A Quilt of Many Colours (New York: Harvester/Wheatsheaf, 1994) 66.
6. Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1937) 134. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the text.
7. Gay Wilentz, "Defeating the False God," in Faith of a (Woman) Writer, ed. Alice Kessler-Harrison and William McBrien (New York: Greenwood, 1987) 288.
8. Berzon 165.
9. John Oliver Killens, The Cotillion: or, One Good Bull Is Worth Half the Herd (New York: Trident, 1971) 245. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the text.
10. Berzon 245.
11. Berzon 246.
12. Berzon 248.
13. In C. W. E. Bigsby's The Second Black Renaissance: Essays in Black Literature (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1980), it is mentioned that Killens was haunted by "racial cataclysm" and old ideologies of race. Bigsby argues that there is a central ambiguity and "double vision" to Killens's works. In my observation, Yoruba represents these dynamics, particularly when she challenges the old ideologies of light-skin versus dark-skin standards. The "cataclysm" comes when she shatters these values at the Cotillion.
14. Bigsby 166: According to Bigsby, Killens advocated a separate state for blacks. Perhaps, the old white man is symbolic of Killens's distrust of the white establishment and of any attempt at cross-barrier racial unity.
15. Berzon 250.
16. Berzon 252.
17. Berzon 261-62.
Carlyle Van Thompson (essay date 2006)
SOURCE: Van Thompson, Carlyle. "Miscegenation as Sexual Consumption: The Enduring Legacy of America's White-Supremacist Culture of Violence in John Oliver Killens's Youngblood." In Eating the Black Body: Miscegenation as Sexual Consumption in African American Literature and Culture, pp. 49-69. New York: Peter Lang, 2006.
[In the following essay, Van Thompson discusses the implications of a culture based on the idea of white supremacy and Killens's portrayal of those implications in his novel Youngblood.]
The astonishing fact is the great indifference of most white Americans toward real but illicit miscegenation…. The illicit relations freely allowed or only frowned upon are, however, restricted to those between white men and Negro women. A white woman's relation with a Negro man is met by the full fury of anti-amalgamation sanctions.
Gunnar Myrdal, An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy
Where is the historical evidence that even remotely suggests that African American people in the United States can ever trust the masses of white people, especially white males, to pursue the fundamentals of Jeffersonian democracy and Emersonian human decency? Where is the historical evidence that suggests that white people en masse will ever denounce, oppose, and eradicate white-male supremacy, white-male hegemony, and white-male privilege? Where is the historical evidence that suggests that women en masse will importune white males to dismantle the anti-humanist white-male supremacist culture? Where is the historical evidence that suggests that African American people, especially African American males, will not suffer from the capricious violence of white-male police violence brought on by racial apprehension and racial insensitivity?
In John Oliver Killens' timeless and racially explosive novel Youngblood, published on the heels of the Supreme Court's Brown versus Board of Education 1954 decision, Killens illustrates that physical, psychological, and economic violence directed at African American people, especially African American males, represents a fundamental aspect of America's white-male supremacist culture. Economic considerations did not prevent violence and disregard for law on the part of many white southerners in wake of the growing Civil Rights Movement. Killens describes the "New South" that required a significant and often troubling change in social relationships between Blacks and whites.1 While the type of lynching that Richard Wright describes in "Between the World and Me" is decreasing, racial violence remains significant. As Jessie Daniel Ames pointed out in 1939, racial violence out of necessity took a new form:
We have managed to reduce lynchings not because we've grown more law abiding or respectable but because lynchings become such bad advertising. The South is going after big industry at the moment, and a lawless, lynch-mob population isn't going to attract very much outside capital. And this is the type of attitude that can be turned to advantage much more speedily than the abstract appeal to brotherly love.
(J. D. Hall 169)
If we examine the lives of Laurie Lee and Joe Youngblood and their family in Crossroads, Georgia, from the turn of the 19th century to the Great Depression, it becomes evident that the enduring aspects of physical, economic, and psychological violence at the hands of racist white males were fundamental to the trauma that a large number of African American people experienced in the South. At the heart of this traumatizing racial violence is the issue of miscegenation, especially that between African American males and white females, despite the fact that consensual and nonconsensual miscegenation was a fundamental aspect of early America. Interestingly, Thomas Sowell states in his book, The Economics and Politics of Race (1983), that in the 1840s, more than 43 percent of white, out-of-wedlock babies were fathered by African American men (9). On the other hand, most white males, regardless of class status, have been socialized to have a crazed fearfulness of African American males consuming white female genitalia. Indeed, the central horror for many racist whites is the connection of white female genitalia and African American male genitalia. Furthermore, most white males (whether they act it out or not) have been socialized to consume the African American female's genitalia as part of their unhealthy sexual sojourn to white-male subjectivity. The sexual consumption of African American bodies and blackness is a fundamental aspect of America's violent culture of racial and gender hegemony.
In the passionate spirit of Charles Waddell Chesnutt, Richard Wright, and Chester Himes, three chroniclers of the violent nature of white supremacy, miscegenation, and racialized sexual violence, John Oliver Killens places his novel in the South during the Jim Crow segregation period, a period of violent socioeconomic disenfranchisement, where many African American people boldly challenged an oppressive system designed to keep them in a landless slave-like status. The Ku Klux Klan, white-male police officers, white-male officials, and white-male landowners were central to the desire to maintain white-male wealth; indeed, there was a direct connection to socioeconomic construction of "whiteness as property" and the ongoing disenfranchisement and economic exploitation of African American people. African American writers like Killens bring a critical perspective to the issue of sadistic racial violence and at the same time bring an unparalleled optimism and redemption concerning the southern African American human condition in the face of white males' enduring mendacity, malfeasance, and malevolence. Central to Killens' analysis of African American people's socioeconomic subjectivity is the issue of miscegenation between African American males and white females. Whereas the sexual violence against African American women by white males was not viewed as a criminal act or cultural contradiction, any indication of a sexual relationship between an African American man and a white female was met with the full fury of white-male extralegal violence in the form of a lynch-burning and castration ritual. Most African American males, especially those in the rural South, began to associate white females with peril and acted in a manner that avoided any evidence or suggestion of intimacy. This was most evident in the 1955 brutal death of a 14-year-old African American boy, Emmett Louis Till, in Money, Mississippi; Till was tortured, mutilated, and shot after he whistled at a white woman. Till's brutal murder gave national and international attention to the racial bigotry and violence in the South.2
Before proceeding, it is important to define the philosophy of white supremacy. White supremacy represents a hegemonic philosophy, epistemology, and axiology that postulates that those who are non-white are biologically, intellectually, and culturally inferior. The origins of America's white-supremacist ideology can be found in Thomas Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia (1787) where he tentatively states that Black people are intellectually and culturally inferior to white people; he also articulates a fear of miscegenation.3 Of course, this represents a paradox, considering his clandestine relationship with the light-skinned African American slave Sally Hemings and the children that he produced from his long-term relationship of pedophilia. With Jefferson being a wealthy white-male slave owner, the issues of race, gender, and economics become synthesized. Accordingly, white supremacy is about materiality, or as George Lipsitz argues in The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit from Identity Politics (1992), "Whiteness has a cash value" with profits mainly for those white males with physical resources; those white males without physical resources (property) only had the illusion of racial superiority. Discussing the materiality of white supremacy that continued during the Jim Crow period and that currently exists, Lipsitz explains:
Whiteness has a cash value that accounts for advantages that come through profits made from housing secured in discriminatory markets, through the unequal education allocated to children of different races, through insider networks that channel employment opportunities to the relatives and friends of those who have profited most from present and past racial discrimination and especially through the intergenerational transfers of inherited wealth that pass on the spoils of discrimination to succeeding generations. This whiteness is of course, a delusion, a scientific and cultural fiction that like all racial identities has no valid foundation in biology or anthropology. Whiteness is however a social fact, an identity created and continued with all-too-real consequences for the distribution of wealth, prestige, and opportunity … whiteness is invested in like property, but it is also a means of accumulating property and keeping it from others.
George Lipsitz's argument is in accord with Cheryl Harris' perceptive analysis in "Whiteness as Property," where she argues that the legal structure of the United States reinforces the ability of whites to obtain and sustain wealth, whereas African American people are constantly disenfranchised.4 Accordingly, white-male legal authorities play a prominent role in Killens' novel. The white males whom Killens characterizes as "crackers" (generally the poor white racists) were the individuals most likely to be engaged in acts of lynching and sexual assault on Black females. Thus the consumption of the African American male's phallus (castration or emasculation) and the consumption of the African American female's genitals (rape or sexual violence) are critical to the formation of white-male subjectivity; this sexualized consumption reflects a symbolic or literal decapitation, leaving the African American victim with no voice, no identity, no subjectivity, and no authority. In a symbolic sense, within a white-supremacist culture, African American individu- als become decapitated, and decapitated bodies are easier to consume. Lynching represented the main form of intimidation used by the Ku Klux Klan and other white groups committed to white nationalism and white supremacy.
Systematic white-male violence directed at African American people, especially African American males during the Jim Crow segregation period, is deeply rooted in the brutal enslavement of African people. Although the destruction of human property (black bodies) was not very common during slavery, physical, psychological, and economic violence were fundamental aspects of slavery. After slavery, racial violence escalated to a tremendous level because of racist whites' desire to maintain their economic and political power at the expense of African American people. Lynching-burnings were the most common element of physical and psychological violence that helped to ensure economic subjectivity for white people. The critical social element that relates to the violence under white supremacy is the issue of miscegenation between African American males and white females. Any attempt by African American males to achieve social equality was seen by many white males as African American men seeking to have social or sexual relations with white females. White-racist violence directed at African American people illustrates both dread and desire. As Clovis E. Semmes perceptively argues in Racism, Health, and Post-Industrialism: A Theory of African American Health (1996), white people's apprehensions of and desires for the Black body represent the central dialectic of ethnocentrism and white supremacy:
European oppression of Africans conjured up other distorted images of sexual fear. The African cultures did not have similar ambivalence about sexual intercourse and did not connect the activity to sin or evil. They and other groups who lived in tropical climates and who felt no shame in exposing their bodies were disturbing to the Europeans. The Europeans justification for chattel slavery stimulated already existing neuroses that resulted in likening Africans to apes. European slavers wanted to exploit the African body and therefore denied that the African had mental and human capacities. They fantasized that Black men were beasts with oversized sex organs and an insatiable lust for white woman. A resulting Eurocentric culture of domination transformed the fact of the vulnerability of African women to sexual abuse by white males into the view that African-American women were inherently immoral and sexually promiscuous. The myths of the Black man as a rapist and sexual brute and the Black woman as a whore became juxtaposed to the myths of mental inferiority and inherent cultural degeneracy.
Most African American people began to understand this fundamental aspect of white cultural pathology and socialized their African American male children and nephews to always be on guard in their interactions with white females because they could be beaten or lynched. Notwithstanding this aspect of white-supremacist culture, Black females also had to always be on guard for sexual violence by racist white American males who believed that Black females should always be available for their often-sadistic sexual desires. In America, the killing of Black males and the rape of Black females have too often defined white masculinity. The lynching of Black males suggests that white males fear Black men, whereas the sexual conquest of Black females suggests that white males do not fear Black woman. Since 1859, some 5,000 Black individuals have been lynched for alleged or real acts against white supremacy. While the destruction of African American males mainly occurs on the psychological level, some Black females are, through enhanced social and employment possibilities in the service of white Americans, vulnerable to sexual violence or routinely viewed as sexual objects. As Jacqueline Jones astutely points out in her seminal book Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work, and the Family from Slavery to the Present (1986), after enslavement, many African American women were routinely subjected to sexual violence by white males while in the domestic employ of whites.5 The psychological and sexual violence that many Black women experienced while working for whites, whether spoken or unspoken, undoubtedly caused enduring trauma in their relationships with Black men, their children, and other family members.
Earlier, in John Oliver Killens's Youngblood, the issue of white-male sexual violence directed at African American females is poignantly illustrated. Like the extra-legal ritual of lynching directed at African American males, this sexual violence directed at African American females has a traumatic effect on the African American individual, her African American family, and her African American community. Historical documents reveal that white males were rarely if ever punished for any sexual violence (rape) or sexual misconduct against an African American female. On the other hand, historical documents do reveal that African American women were put on trial and punished if they killed a white male who attempted to rape them. Indeed, based on the racist stereotypical discourse concerning African American females as heathen, promiscuous, and licentious, the rape of an African American female by a white male was a ludicrous allegation, a cultural oxymoron. Notwithstanding this cultural absurdity backed by white legal dictates and authorities, Laurie Lee Barksdale, a light-skinned, 11-year-old African American girl, was assaulted in broad daylight by a lanky white man while she walked through an alley. Killens uses this incident to set the stage for the novel's repeated emphasis on racialized sexual violence:
Nicely dressed, middle-aged white man with brown squinting eyes, mixed with whiskey-red. He mumbled to himself as he grabbed her plump buttocks. And he wouldn't let her go. Scared crazy with her heart in her mouth and blood flowing in the well of her stomach. Greatgodalmighty! She kicked him on his shins, she kneed him in his groin, but he wouldn't turn her loose.6
As this white man squeezes her "young breasts" he says: "Come on yaller bitch, you got something good and I know it. Ain't no needer keeping it to yourself" (5). Interestingly, the other white-male individuals look on and comment while this sexual assault occurs. They say: "Damn I reckin—Thassa fiery little nigger heffer" and "She sure is pretty." Only one of these white males says something in defense of this young Black female being assaulted by a drunken white pedophile. One white male states: "Leave her 'lone Mr. Hill, you old no-good hound" (5). The words "bitch" and "hound" illustrate the animalistic nature of the assault. Whites used hounds to track escaped slaves. Like a lynch-burning of an African American woman or man, this public act of sexual violence becomes a spectacle of sadistic sexual desire and consumption, where the African American female's body becomes a space for exploitation. By Killens describing the white man as nicely dressed, he establishes the paradox of this man's malevolent behavior. It is also interesting to note that this child attacker, Mr. Hill, calls Laurie Lee Barksdale a "yaller bitch." Of course, this pejorative signifier points to her light skin, but it also denotes the theme of miscegenation as sexual consumption and animalistic breeding, where African American females were routinely raped by white masters and white overseers. Slavery, an economic system that reproduced its own product for consumption, created light-skinned African American individuals who became desired by other white males and in some cases created a preference-by-pigmentocracy philosophy in the minds of many whites and some colorstruck African Americans. In some cases, miscegenation would lead to incest because some white slave masters raped African American women and years later would rape their own daughters from these sexual encounters. To have a preference-by-pigmentocracy philosophy, or a hedonistic hegemony of color, is to validate the sexual violence that many African American women experienced. Discussing the dehumanized status of African American women during slavery, Dorothy Roberts argues:
Racism created for white slave owners the possibility of unrestrained reproductive control. The social order established by powerful white men was founded on two inseparable ingredients: the dehumanization of Africans on the basis of race, and the control of women's sexuality and reproduction. The American legal system is rooted in this monstrous combination of racial and gender domination. One of America's first laws concerned the status of children born to slave mothers and fathered by white men: a 1662 Virginia statute made these children slaves.
However, despite the violence that African American women experienced, they were characterized as oversexed females or wretches who seduced white males. Interestingly, many white women who discovered that their husbands were forcing themselves on African American female slaves would attack the slave rather than confront their husbands. Within a Marxist context, this behavior suggests that many white women were "slaves" to their own white husbands who owned African American slaves.
The white male's use of the words "something good" denotes that Laurie Lee has something enjoyable that can be consumed; in this case the "something" is her breasts and her genitalia. Hence Laurie Lee's sexual assault recalls the sexual violence of the past where most African American females were almost powerless, although many resisted.7 By raking her fingernails down his long scrawny face and drawing blood, Laurie Lee escapes a sure public and bloody rape but not before he upped her skirt and urinated on her thighs. The drunken man's urine on Laurie Lee's tender thighs allows us to consider the worst possibility of this attack, that being this white man's semen greasing her thighs. The fact that he was able to urinate on her thighs reveals that his penis was exposed and that he was serious in his desire to rape Laurie Lee in public. "Running and crying most of the way home—Through the heart of Crackertown, across the railroad track and through Tucker's field, she reached Colored town. She stopped running and crying, and she leaned against an evergreen tree, and she looked at the shanties scattered over the valley, but her eyes saw nothing" (5). On her way home, the deep-seated psychological trauma begins to seep in as Laurie Lee views an axe and considers: "She should chop off her legs. Whack them off clean up to her belly" (5). This disturbing desire for amputation and self-mutilation in re- sponse to the sexual assault has four important aspects. First, it suggests that amputation and self-mutilation represent a way to avoid further attacks of sexual violence. That Laurie Lee desires to chop off her legs "clean up to her belly" reveals that the target of this sexual assault (her genitalia) has somehow been desecrated and that she has no desire to develop and maintain her sexual identity, and by extension, her reproductive possibilities. At the literal level, Laurie Lee's desire suggests a horrific bloody suicide. Second, it suggests a sense of powerlessness that her family, especially her African American father, will not be able to seek any legal action against this attack; hence, some white authorities will view the act as if the African American female victim somehow caused the attack. If the father did take any extra-legal action against Mr. Hill, he would most likely be beaten or killed along with the family driven out of their home. Third, it suggests that, under the system of white supremacy, the African American body cannot be redeemed by any other act. Fourth, psychological distress connects to Judith Lewis Herman's sagacious argument in Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror (1997), about the dialectical aspects of trauma. Herman states: "The conflict between the will to deny horrible events and the will to proclaim them aloud is the central dialectic of psychological trauma. People who have survived atrocities often tell their stories in a highly emotional, contradictory, and fragmented manner, which undermines their credibility and thereby serves the twin imperatives of truth-telling and secrecy. When the truth is finally recognized, the victim can begin their recovery" (1). Instead of some bloody act of self-mutilation, Laurie Lee strips off her clothes and she "scrubbed the skin off her young brown body with washing powder and lye soap. Her legs and her thighs were on fire. Standing in the tub now, naked and trembling. One thing sure, she wouldn't tell the folks" (5). This act of purification attempts to erase both the physical and psychological violence of this attempted rape and its humiliating effects. When Big Mama asks Laurie if she is alright, Killens explicates the dialectical aspect of Herman's theory: "She started to say, nothing Big Momma, but her voice choked off and her eyes filled up and she couldn't hold it back. Steamed up and boiling right over. Telling it now, bit by bit, then fast and fiercely, pouring it angrily out of her system" (7). After being comforted by her grandmother, a stern warning is issued to Laurie Lee, "Don't say nothing to your Papa about it, please, sugar pie. Do, he'll go outer here and get himself kilt, sure as gun's iron!" The paradoxical paradigm here is that, in a patriarchal society, a fundamental right is for a father to be able to protect his children from harm and to seek some sort of redress for wrong doing, but in a Jim Crow society, African American men had virtually no legal privileges or social opportunities to protect their women and their children from the sexual violence of white males and false allegations of rape by white females. America represents a white patriarchal culture and it appears that one of the greatest threats to this patriarchy is an African American patriarch; clearly many racist white men fear African American men.
Killens illustrates that even when some African American individuals interact with each other, and when some whites interact with African Americans, the issue of miscegenation is used to inflict psychological damage. Two friends of Laurie Lee and Joe Youngblood's son Robby Youngblood are engaging in some verbal dynamics and playing the dozens over skin color. Fat Gus asks Shinny Johnson: "Did your dear old mother have her fist balled when she slept with that white policy man, you half-white, shit-colored sonabitch?" (112). This contemptuous statement causes Shinny to pick up a rock with the intent to hit Fat Gus, but Robby makes a statement against skin-color hegemony: "Ain't no difference—black, yellow or brown—All of us Negroes. One color ain't no better than the other. We need to stick together, don't care what color" (112). Interestingly, when Robby and Fat Gus are seduced to fight each other for the entertainment of two white men, the issues of skin color and illicit miscegenation are used to create antipathy and intra-racial conflict between the two boys. One of the white men, Mr. Brad, encourages Fat Gus to beat Robby: "Come, fat-black, stop assing around. Knock the shit out of that little yaller bastard! Draw his goddamn blood! He think he bettern you cause his skin a little lighter. His mammy muster been messing with the policy man" (72). In a scene that echoes Ralph Ellison's "Battle Royal" episode in Invisible Man (1952), two African American boys are paid to fight each other in a demonstration of how some white males have a strong desire to view African Americans drawing blood from each other.8 Two African American males fighting for the amusement of these white males recalls the slave experience where black individuals were constantly exploited for white people's pleasure. As Claude Anderson explains, this was just another form of exploitation for whites' enjoyment:
On Sunday and special days, like New Years, Christmas or Easter, slaveowners enjoyed watching demonstrations of blacks' physical prowess in special sporting events. Blacks participated in various kinds of sports or other contests to entertain or for personal profit for their masters or themselves. Some of the more popular sporting events were wrestling, chopping or picking cotton, shooting marbles, pitching horseshoes, coon hunting, or foot racing against dogs and horses.
At some point, Robby understands how they have been tricked to do real harm to each other. With a bloody lower lip, Robby "wanted desperately to stop fighting. Wished that Gus would suggest it. Hating these crackers and every last one of them should be dead and in hell. Hating Gus for letting the white men talk him into fighting so easily" (73). The lynchings of African American males, the rapes of African American females, and African American males fighting each other serve as sadistic entertainment for racist whites, especially white males. Laurie Lee Youngblood discovers the boxing scene and with a seething anger denounces the white men: "Two grown men. I guess you mighty tickled. You want some fun, pick on your own damn kind! You ought to be ashamed but I don't reckin you got that much mother-wit. Uncivilized savages! Lowdown, filthy peckerwood trash!" (73). Laurie Lee Youngblood's antagonism against these two white males resides with the present and the past as she perhaps recalls her own sexual assault when she was a young girl. Robby and Gus also experience Laurie Lee's wrath, especially Robby. She tells them: "Neither one of you ain't got the sense you were born with" (73). In both of these scenes, concerning the discourse of pigmentocracy and references to consensual miscegenation, we understand how Killens brilliantly makes the point that interracial conflict can produce intraracial conflict. The Machiavellian divide-and-conquer philosophy represents a fundamental trope of white supremacy, and the issue of skin-color hegemony, as a result of miscegenation (whether it is consensual or in the form of sexual violence), reinforces racial hegemony. Killens' diction and characterizations of the white males also suggests that consensual miscegenation on the part of whites does not mean that they do not have a white-supremacist perspective. Consensual consumption of African American bodies does not preclude the possibility that racism still exists.
Along with other racist acts by white males that demean, emasculate, and symbolically castrate African American men, this inability to protect ones' children recalls that period of enslavement and the natal alienation that existed with African American parents and their children. During this period of America's white-supremacist culture, African American men are not allowed to be fathers and African American women are not allowed to be mothers.9 As Orlando Patterson adeptly argues in Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study (1982), the power dynamic has three aspects: "The first is social and involves the use of threat of violence in the control of one person by another. The second is the psychological facet of influence, the capacity to persuade the other person to change the way he [or she] perceives his [or her] interests and his [or her] circumstances." The third is the cultural facet of authority, "the means of transforming force into right, and obedience into duty" which, according to Jean Jacques Rousseau, the powerful find necessary "to ensure them continual mastership." (1-2). These three aspects of power are evident in Laurie Lee's response to the two boys fighting for the amusement of whites, as well as to her previous sexual assault, and her grandmother's response of trepidation for Laurie Lee's father. Hence, this scene synthesizes the psychological and physical violence of white supremacy with disastrous economic violence to this African American family, especially if the father takes any action. Clearly, slavery was the most extreme form of violent domination, approaching the limits of total power from the viewpoint of the master, and of total powerlessness from the viewpoint of the slave, but the legacy of this violence is evident during Jim Crow segregation. African Americans were always vulnerable to white violence. After slavery, African American people, especially African American males, were more likely to be killed because they were no longer property. Killing property (African American people) is unproductive for business, but the killing of lone African American individuals to intimidate the masses of African American people can further the interest of white males, especially those who used African Americans as sharecroppers, a system of relentless exploitation that kept African American people in a perpetual economic slavery.
With the two children of Laurie Lee Barskdale and Joe Youngblood, John Oliver Killens again addresses the issue of miscegenation in order to illustrate interracial conflict producing profound intra-racial conflict. Jenny Lee and Robby Youngblood have an experience that has the potential to tear the Youngblood family apart. On her way home from school, walking down Planters' Alley, Jenny Lee is confronted by four white boys who throw her to the ground and begin to sexually assault her. Although Jenny attempts to "bust one of them peckerwoods wide open," it becomes clear that there are too many of them. Crying and talking at the same time, Jenny relates to her mother, Laurie Lee, that the white four boys were "Yelling—yelling nigger pussy—nigger pussy" (165), while their hands were under her dress. When Laurie Lee attends to her daughter, she discovers the scratches on her skinny thighs and that her "drawers had been ripped and torn" (165). Here we see that these four young white males have been socialized to violently consume "nigger pussy" as some pathological rite of passage to white-male subjectivity. While this attack occurs, Robby comes along and fights the white boys, but he is the only individual who is arrested. Of course, this traumatic scene of Jenny Lee's sexual assault recalls the mother's sexual assault. While it is unlikely that Laurie Lee has told her young daughter about her own violent sexual assault, this malicious sexual violence causes the mother to relive her own traumatic experience, where she had the desire to chop off her legs. Herman's theory of the dialectic of trauma is again evident in the hysterical manner that Jenny Lee reveals the attack. Herman states: "The psychological distress symptoms of traumatized people simultaneously call into existence the attention to the existence of an unspeakable secret and deflect attention from it. This is most apparent in the way traumatized people alternate between feeling numb and reliving the event" (1). Herman's theory helps us understand the complicated psychological aspects of the transgenerational transgression of trauma that African American people, especially African American women, have experienced as a result of white-male sexualized violence because "an understanding of psychological trauma being with rediscovering history" (2). When we consider the historical aspect, that the status of the enslaved African American child's status was determined by the status of the mother, African American females in American represent a subversive threat. As Marlene Nourbese Philip explicates in Genealogy of Resistance (1997): "The Black woman comes to the New World with only her body. And the space between. The European buys her not only for her strength, but also to service the Black man sexually—to keep him calm. And to produce new chattels—units of production—for the plantation machine. The Black woman. And the space between her legs. Is intended to help repopulate the outer space" (20). Hence, whereas the white woman's space becomes protected, the African American woman's space becomes a virtual thoroughfare for both African American males and white males. The trauma to Jenny Lee's genital space does not end with the violence that African American females experience; the agenda of white supremacy is the enduring socioeconomic disenfranchisement and psychological destruction of both African American females and males. Unlike Laurie Lee, Killens does not reveal any self-destructive thoughts that Jennie Lee may experience, but the arrest of her brother may result in the sublimation of any self-blame.
With Robby Youngblood defending his younger sister, Jenny Lee, from the sexual attack of the four white boys and his subsequent arrest by white-male legal authorities, Killens relates how white law represents a fundamental aspect of America's white-supremacist culture of violence. While Robby is arrested for "fighting white boys," the four white boys are allowed to go home, despite the fact that they initiated a violent sexual assault on Jenny Lee Youngblood. Indeed, they go home confident in their whiteness, but perhaps frustrated and still longing for the taste of "nigger pussy." A synthesis of Laurie Lee Youngblood's sexual assault and Jenny Lee Youngblood's sexual assault conveys that for racist white males, "nigger pussy" and "nigger bitch" are how they view most African American females. These racist signifiers also juxtapose disgust and desire. The legal message represents some disturbing critical aspects of white-supremacist culture. First, the sexual assault on an African American female by white males does not represent a legal or cultural transgression. Second, African American males cannot defend African American females from sexual assault when white males are involved, and if they do they will be beaten, arrested, or worse. This aspect reinforces the slave experience where African American males were unable to protect African American females from the sexual assaults of the white slave masters and other white males. Third, the testimony of African American individuals in court is worthless when it comes to accusing white males of any wrongdoing, especially when it involves an African American female. What becomes clear here is that, then and now, "white law" generally services the socioeconomic interests or white males, especially wealthy white males. Without any trepidation of legal or social consequences, many white males viewed African American females like Laurie Lee and Jenny Lee (and their genitalia) as public spaces to express their sexual desires. Then and now, African American women become viewed too often as sexual objects.
Laurie Lee Youngblood's visit to the Georgia courthouse (the sign "Justice For All" is displayed outside the building) to obtain her beloved son Robby Youngblood results in unspeakable psychological, physical violence, and profound natal alienation between mother and son. Even before Laurie Lee gets to see her son, the psychological violence begins as a white-male police officer transforms her to "eye candy" as Laurie Lee "could feel him watching her as she walked down the corridor, looking at her supple body, at the quick, pleasant-for-him-to-watch movement of the pair of hips inside of her dress. Her face burned in anger. It wasn't the first time. Many white men had done so in the past, even more boldly" (167). Here the white police officer, Shinny McGuire, tells Laurie the offense, "‘Gotcha boy down here—fighting white boys—Little white boys coming home from school—Serious offense, Laurie—Don't be you and Joe's youngun wouldn't let him off so easy—Y'all some mighty good colored folks and we don't wanna see your boy git into no trouble—I go git him now.’ His greenish-blue eyes had been traveling everywhere except into Laurie's face" (168). Again Laurie becomes "eye candy" as Skinny McGuire's taxonomic gaze consumes her. Worse still, Laurie Lee becomes symbolically decapitated while her daughter, Jenny Lee, and her sexual assault become invisible. The four "little white boys coming home from school" become characterized as innocent individuals, while Robby becomes characterized as the out-of-control and brutal Black buck.10 Knowing the tragic fate of those African American males who are characterized as brutes, the central trepidation for Laurie Lee Youngblood is that Robby would be sent to the reformatory like her brother, Tim Barksdale, who had been ruined by reform school after fighting white boys:
Tim went to the reformatory for rockbattling white boys and breaking old man's McWhorter's window. They kept him there for two whole years and when he came out he was as mean as a bulldog. Tim Barksdale had been the sweetest boy in the world before that reformatory got hold of him…. Greatgodalmighty they made that nice boy ugly and mean and heartless and don't care, and when he got out he wouldn't listen to anybody.
Laurie Lee Youngblood's thoughts of her brother are central in her concern for her son: "Just wasn't like himself, when he came out of that reformatory place … the memory of Tim reared up before her and the reformatory itself, the mean, hateful-looking, dirty gray buildings, the Negro-hating people who ran the place, almost entirely filled up with Negro boys" (168-69). Like sharecropping and the peonage system, the reformatory system functioned to exploit African American people and to keep uncontrollable African Americans "in their place." These fearful thoughts enter Laurie Lee's mind as Shinny McGuire hands her a buggy whip. Laurie Lee must whip her son Robby in front of Shinny and another white man as a trade-off for not sending him to the reformatory. What is also implicit here in Killens' characterization of the reformatory is the issue of sexual violence at the reformatory. These oppressive conditions would lead the white-male guards to rape the African American boys, who would in turn rape other African American boys. Like Eva Peace in Toni Morrison's Sula (1973), who kills her beloved son Plum (a heroin addict and a veteran of World War I) because he desires to crawl back into her womb,11 Laurie Lee Youngblood refuses to take Robby back into the womb and is forced to teach him a bloody and painful lesson of a Black mother's enduring love for her child in the face of vicious racism. The paradox of this voyeuristic scene is violently profound as Killens relates Laurie Lee's complex desires and frustrations:
She would rather have bared her own body to the lashes of these white men than to do this thing to her son…. She raised her arm again and she felt like taking the whip and lashing these white men until every bit of breath left their bodies. She wished every white person in the world were at this very moment under her power. She would lash the life out of them one by one with a smile on her face…. Her boy's eyes narrowed, almost closing, his lips curved and set, giving forth a grunt now, as each blow knifed his body. She saw Joe at the mill wrestling with a barrel of turpentine. She felt a contemptuous anger towards him. He had it so goddamn easy. Just lifting those heavy drums, while she lashed their son in front of white men for defending his sister against a bunch of little no-good crackers trying to rape her.
As Laurie Lee Youngblood makes her son's back a bloody mess of flesh, her seething anger grows not only for the white men who are forcing her to do this, but also for her husband, Joe, a dark and muscular six-foot-four African American man—because he is ignorant of this traumatic ordeal, but equally important is the fact that he would be powerless to effect any change in the outcome of this whipping. Laurie Lee's anger towards her husband reveals that African American men were generally powerless in this Jim Crow society and those who resisted were brutally beaten, imprisoned, or killed by lynching. Here, white males are psychologically forcing Laurie Lee to assume the role of a white sadistic master who beats his African American slave for some violation of the rules of the plantation. The critical difference is that this mother loves her son so much that she is willing to brutally beat him in order to save him from a worse destruction at the reformatory.
At the reformatory, Robby Youngblood's destruction would be both an enduring physical and psychological destruction. Even more disturbing is the possibility that Robby could be raped at the reformatory. Like his maternal uncle Tim, Robby would emerge from the reformatory as a broken and emasculated African American man, who would be an economic and psychological liability on his African American family and his African American community. However, it is difficult for Robby to understand why his mother is whipping his naked back into a bloody pulp of flesh as these white males gaze and encourage Laurie Lee to whip him harder and harder until Robby's agonized screams fill the room. Laurie Lee's humiliation and shame in being forced to whip her son, who protected his sister from sexual violence, represents one of the most disturbing scenes in the canon of African American literature, and the journey back to some form of redemption for mother and son will be a difficult process because Robby feels a deep-seated betrayal. Here the paradox is profound: a mother compelled to whip her son for stopping the rape of his sister. More important than the individual is the crushing effect this traumatic incident has on the Youngblood family and the legacy of Big Mama, who taught her children to resist and fight against white supremacy. Laurie Lee recalls Big Mama's words: "Honey, don' choo never let em walk over you—don' choo do it—Fight em honey—Fight em every inch of the way, especially the big rich ones…. They lynch us, they starve us and they work us to death, and it ain-na gonna change till you young Negroes gits together and beat some sense into their heads. So fight em, sugar pie. Aah Lordy, honey" (10). Paradoxically, here the benevolent and moral fight leaves the entire Youngblood family psychologically scarred, and like the traumatized Sethe in Toni Morrison's Beloved (1987), Robby is left with a whip-scarred back. As Keith Gilyard rightfully argues in Liberation Memories: The Rhetoric and Poetics of John Oliver Killens (2003): "That she acquiesces to authorities and beats Robby is a crushing defeat for her family … Laurie Lee made the right call, but the decision offers her no immediate solace"(14). The issue of solace is made more emphatic when Laurie Lee orders Robby to say that he will not fight with white boys; implicit in this statement is that he will not resist white people's evil actions. Worse still, the message to Robby, and by extension all African American males, is that he does not have the right to defend his sister from a sexual assault by white males who wanted to consume his sister's "pussy." Robby's heroic defense of his sister Jenny could place in him in a position where the "Negro-hating" white males and other African American boys like him could sodomize him and turn him into a "yella bitch" for relentless sexual consumption. Robby Youngblood's symbolic emasculation and castration, facilitated by his mother, are complete, and the healing and restoration of his African American male subjectivity will take time.12 Thus Killens gives us the linear transgenerational transgression of sexual violence, where Laurie Lee is almost raped by a white male; her daughter Jenny is almost raped by four white males; and Laurie Lee has to whip her son Robby to save him from being raped by white males and other African American males.
The characterization of the white woman, especially the southern white woman, is fundamental to white supremacy as it relates to sexual violence and miscegenation. The historical perspective is that white women must be protected at all cost; symbolically, the white woman has been placed on the proverbial pedestal in honor of her status of purity and innocence. Accordingly, racist whites viewed the African American male as the single most dangerous threat to white females because of the absurd idea that most African American males lusted after white females. In Youngblood, Ossie Jefferson relates his father's racism and his historical position on the southern white woman:
That was the southern code…. He had heard Pa shout nigger nigger nigger a million times and what a threat they were to southern white womanhood and southern womanhood had to be protected and southern womanhood and southern womanhood and southern womanhood, and first and last southern womanhood till he had believed that this was the one principle John Jefferson would never go back on.
It is this position of the status of white women that causes John Jefferson to become hysterical with anger after his white wife, Martha Mae Johnson, bruised and bleeding, is carried home in the arms of Little Jim, a tall and lanky African American man. Although his wife informs him that a white man, Charlie Wilcox, lied to her about her husband being hurt and then attempted to rape her, John does not believe her and vows to kill Little Jim, who brought his wife home because her leg was broken. John's response is clearly in line with the rabidly racist white males depicted in Thomas Dixon's novel The Clansman and in D. W. Griffith's film Birth of a Nation (1915): "I don't believe it was Charlie Wilcox at all. You just trying to protect that nigger. I always knowed you was stuck on him…. Come on boys, let's go nigger hunting." (244). John's statement reflects the stereotypical concept that African American men lust after white women and also the idea that some white women desire African American men. Charlie's views on miscegenation are reinforced when the sheriff and the preacher harass Martha Mae about what happened to her and accused her of being a "nigger lover" in her attempt to protect Little Jim by equivocating about Charlie Wilcox as a potential rapist. Like a relentless winter storm, the white preacher sternly warns a psychologically frail Martha Mae:
"There's only one truth…. And that is—Every nigger man alive is after raping a white woman, and God wants you to help put a stop to it. If you don't repent and tell the truth, you going to hell and tarnation. I'm going to pray for you in Church on Sunday and ask God to forgive you if you tell the truth this evening. But effen you don't open up your soul to God and me, I'm gonna preach you straight into the jaws of hell."
Here, Killens sagaciously positions white law and white religion as critical in their support of white-supremacist culture and those doctrines having ideologies and axiologies that are fearful of miscegenation between African American males and white females. The psychological weight of white supremacy becomes too much for Martha Mae, and she reverses herself by telling the "right story." She tells her son, Ossie: "I just made up that story about Charlie Wilcox to protect that black skunk, Little Jim, cause I knowed you was so crazy about him. That oughta teach you how not to be a nigger-lover" (250). "Nigger-lover," with its connotation to miscegenation as sexual consumption, only applies to whites who have some concern for the socioeconomic plight of African American people. Killens uses this term repeatedly throughout the novel to convey those whites who either do not have a white-supremacist agenda (attitude) or who show any sympathy to African Americans. For example, when Officer Skinny McGuire shows a little compassion to Laurie Lee Youngblood after she brutally whipped her son, Robby, the white plainclothesman states: "Officer of the law—Goddammit, Skinny, I believe you turning into a chickenshit nigger lover" (175). However, if a white male attempted to rape an African American female, this would just be seen by legal and religious authorities as a white male having some innocent amusement; within a cultural context, this individual would not be considered a "nigger-lover." The possibility that a white man could be a rapist of a white woman represents an outrageous concept to the husband, the sheriff, and the preacher. Like an out-of-control fire, John Jefferson (of course the last name Jefferson conjures up Thomas Jefferson and his miscegenous relationship with the Black slave Sally Hemings) and a group of "nigger hunters" go to the home of Little Jim. Mr. Mack relates the massacre to Ossie: "Boy I'm telling you that was a sight to see. Just as soon as one of em would run out of the house, we would knock em off like a bunch of black birds. Killed every last nigger of them. The way I figger, it was an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." (252). Like the bloody violence of 1923 experienced in the Florida town of Rosewood, a white woman's prevarication results in a deadly tragedy. Based on the false allegation that a white female was beaten by an African American man, this African American town was destroyed and hundreds of African American people were killed by white mob violence.13 The 1922 destruction of the African American town of Wallstreet, OK, has a similar history; here a false charge of a young white female being raped led to the destruction of this wealthy African American community.14
The final scene of miscegenation as a sexual act of consumption involves the 15-year-old Robby Youngblood and a 13-year-old white girl, Betty Jane Cross Junior. Robby works at her parents' house and they are one of the wealthiest white families in Crossroads, Georgia. Robby does things such as raking the leaves, doing yard work, chopping wood, and taking in coal and splinters, but his presence at the girl's home has sparked the white girl's sexual desire. On a number of occasions, Betty Jane seeks out Robby for conversation and companionship. One particular incident involves Betty Jane showing Robby the hair under her arms and then removing her panties to reveal her genitals with "her triangle of dark, yellow hairs, dirty public hairs." (91) Understanding the absolute danger that this naïve white girl represents, Robby asks her: "‘What you trying to do—make me lose my job?’ He hated her because she was white and dangerous and she had the color of skin that everything and everybody had taught him to hate ever since he could remember" (91-92). Here again, Robby becomes caught up in another paradox of miscegenous sexual desire and consumption; he wants to keep the job, but he does not want to get involved with this white girl because he knows that he could be beaten and lynched. Although she is careful to avoid Robby when her mother is around, Betty Jane seems unaware of any serious problems with regard to her seductive actions. Like most white children, Betty Jane has been socialized to view herself as having privileges based on her racial identity. When Robby first meets Betty Jane, he "wondered about the yellow-haired girl, hoping he wouldn't have any trouble out of her" (67). Later, the innocent sexual explorations on Betty Jane's part esca- late to the point where she follows Robby into the African American chauffeur's room. Here the adolescences of two individuals, one African American male and one white female, collide within the context of American's white-supremacist culture, where the African American male is characterized as an oversexed Black brute lusting after a white female. Despite the cultural danger signals exploding in his head, Robby Youngblood
reached out toward her and took her into his arms and he kissed her awkwardly and clumsily on her wet pink lips and he felt her body tremble and her knees buckled like something had hit her and both of them almost fell to the floor—Even at that late moment he heard a warning voice like a white danger signal—but it was all too late—with his manhood asserting itself all over his body, and his inexperienced hand wandering and blundering and discovering new wonders and Rob! Rob! Rob! A smothering gasp, and her arms tightening around his neck, as the door to Mr. Jim Bradford's room opened noisily, bring them quickly back to this world.
Betty Jane's mother is horror-stricken as she views her young white daughter in the arms of this young African American male. In her mind, this innocent incident of sexual desire quickly turns into an attempt by Robby Youngblood to rape her daughter. The sight of the girl's mother has a profound effect on Robby: "He could feel the lyncher's rope around his neck choking off his life. He swallowed the hard bitter spittle in his mouth" (312). Considering the film Birth of a Nation, for most whites during this period the only possible reason for a white female to be close to an African American male is because he intends to rape or sexually assault her. This incident of youthful sexual interest and exploration reaches a crescendo when Mrs. Cross Junior goes to the home of the Joe and Laurie Lee Youngblood with the allegation that Robby has attempted to rape her daughter and requests that they place Robby in the reformatory. Robby firmly denies the charge of sexual violence, and it soon becomes clear to Laurie Lee Youngblood that there was no rape and that Mrs. Cross Junior has not gone to the police and will not report the incident out of embarrassment and shame for her daughter's sexual desire for Robby. Once Laurie Lee fully understands the true circumstances of this alleged miscegenous situation, she unleashes a devastating verbal tirade that deconstructs this white woman's gendered and racialized class status along with Mrs. Cross' illusion of white racial subjectivity:
"You're just like the rest of the cracker women, aren't you? You're worst than the rest. That's what you are. Cause you know better. You sell your body and soul to hell with your eyes wide open just to live in the biggest house in town—to wear pretty clothes and strut Miss Ann." The meanness and bitterness emptied out of Laurie like a pot boiling over. "I'm black but I'm free and you're a slave. You understand? Mr. Cross Junior's beautiful white slave. You're a slave and a whore to every white man in the state of Georgia."
Killens' diction echoes the scene of Laurie Lee's sexual assault by the white male, Mr. Hill; in this scene Laurie Lee becomes a "pot boiling over" and in telling Big Mama about the assault we encounter the same analogy. Hence, the sexual assault and the false charge of rape against her son are systematic of a white-supremacist culture, where both African American females and males are vulnerable to racial violence. Laurie Lee Youngblood's perceptive analysis of reversing the Hegelian master and slave dialectic captures the true essence of white women's illusion of subjectivity with regard to white men. Laurie Lee's analysis also suggests the Faustian paradigm where Mrs. Cross has "made a deal with the devil" of white-male supremacy and becomes symbolically decapitated and consumed in the process. Hence, white women only have the illusion of subjectivity and only in relationship to the white phallus. However, Laurie Lee does not stop here; she deconstructs the systematic role that many white women play in the killing of African American males due to their prevarications about Black males:
"You know my boy didn't rape your daughter. The white man has taken all of your dignity from you. Isn't a drop left in you. And now you ready to sacrifice the dignity of every poor black man in the United States. The blood of every Negro ever been lynched is on your lily-white hands, and you ready to make my boy one in that number. If you think I'm help you, you're a liar and the truth isn't in you."
Laurie Lee Youngblood's didactic discourse leaves this white woman confused, shaken, and hysterical. Here, Laurie Lee denounces the complicity and the silence of white women in the lynching of African American males who were often killed because of rumors or fabrications associated with sexual relations with white females. Those white women who support white supremacy are essentially "raped" of their dignity and self-worth by white-male hegemony. Better still, racist white males become characterized as bloodsuckers who prey on the dignity of white women. Perhaps this is the first time that an African American woman has told her the truth about herself and her de- vious part in the furtherance of white supremacy and its violent aspects, which attempt to disenfranchise and destroy African American people. As Keith Gilyard points out, life for African American people in Crossroads, GA, is an almost-daily confrontation with racist white people: "[H]ardly a day goes by without Blackfolk having to resolve some crisis created by whites. Days upon days are wrapped in threat and death. Barely a conversation transpires without ‘boy,’ ‘sir,’ ‘nigrah,’ ‘cracker,’ ‘nigger,’ or ‘peckerwood.’ In the midst of these polarities, the author drives home the message that Black redemption can only come through Black unity" (12-13). Every member of the Youngblood family experiences some horrific traumatic incident that shapes their psyche and their relationships with other members of the family. What becomes clear in Youngblood is the transgenerational transgression of trauma associated with the phenomenon of post-traumatic slavery syndrome. Accordingly, the icy winds of white supremacy have created a perpetual winter in the lives of African American people, but there are those individuals who resist those icy winds with a rock-like fortitude that inspires others to defy evil. As Addison Gayle explicates in the foreword to Youngblood :
Existential man may be a product of the paradise lost, but his journey must be toward reclaiming that paradise, not for himself alone, but for all. Such a journey is undertaken by the Youngbloods and the gallant men and women of their community. It is a journey whose byroads, to be sure, are strewn with evidence of human viciousness, with fear, trepidation, and death. Still, it is a journey made by human beings who realize that manhood and womanhood are achieved not so much from reaching or not reaching a prescribed goal as by the courage displayed in moving toward it.
Gayle's analysis highlights the fundamental humanity in Killens' novel. African American people are struggling to make better lives for themselves and for future generations; however, some of their sacrifices may not be realized in their lifetimes, but the example of struggle is critically important. Killens makes the point that "youngbloods" need to see their elders take a stand against philosophies and practices of white supremacy.
The final trauma in the novel involves Joe Youngblood being shot after he challenges Mr. Mack, a racist white paymaster, over his pay at the mill.16 Joe's often demeaning and physically strenuous work at the mill represents another form of consumption in that he and other African American men are treated like animals. Joe ultimately dies as a result of his wound, but his death inspires many African American people and a few whites to come together to transform the community.
What we discover in John Oliver Killens' historical novel Youngblood is the pervasive issue of miscegenation as sexual consumption within the context of the physical, psychological, and economic violence of America's white-supremacist culture. Many white people's unfounded apprehensions and racist anxieties of miscegenation between African American males and white females have resulted in an untold number of lynchings of African American men, whereas the voluminous sexual assaults on African American women by white males have generally gone unpunished. Hence, the lynchings of African American men and the rapes of African American women become central to white-male subjectivity under America's white-supremacist culture. Killens' novel can be viewed as a historical indictment of the sexual pathology of those racist whites, especially racist white males who have projected their own psychotic and sadistic sexual desires onto African American people and who have acted out their desires by engaging in the sexual consumption of African American bodies. However, despite the often-traumatic challenges that Laurie Lee and Joe Youngblood's family face, there is a profound courage and redemption that allow this African American family to survive a relentless system of white violence. Sexual violence in the form of rape becomes Killens' central focus. This African American family faces the transgenerational transgression of trauma associated with the horrors of racial discrimination, but they are never crushed; indeed, they teach whites and other African Americans profound lessons in the fundamental redemptive aspects of humanity. While miscegenation no longer remains a significant issue of racialized sexual consumption, the issue of miscegenation, especially between African American males and white females, continues to be the critical force in the formation of America's public policies concerning education, employment, and housing. John Oliver Killens' Youngblood, as a novel of redemption in the face of malicious racial malevolence, issues an audacious call for all those youngbloods and those whites who believe in the fundamental principles of Jeffersonian democracy and Emersonian human decency to respond to the enduring and malevolent plague of white supremacy.
1. One of the most heinous attacks by racist whites during the Civil Rights Movement caused the 1964 deaths of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, who were murdered by a group of white men organized by Edgar Ray Killen. Their disappearance, and the discovery of their bodies in an earthen dam, galvanized the movement. Edgar Ray Killen, an 80-year-old former Klansman in a wheelchair, was sentenced Thursday, June 23, 2005, to 60 years in prison (20 years for each of the three deaths) by Circuit Judge Marcus Gordon for his role in the deaths of these Civil Rights workers.
2. See Mamie Till-Mobley and Christopher Benson's Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America. Here, Till-Mobley relates her viewing of her beloved son's body: "At a glance, the body didn't appear human. I remember thinking it looked like something from outer space, something you might see at one of those Saturday matinees. Or maybe that's only what I wanted to think so that I wouldn't have to admit that this was my son. Suddenly, as I stood there gazing down at the body, something came over me. It was like an electric shock. In fact it was terror. I felt it through every bone in my body. I stiffened. The horror of this moment was as overwhelming as the smell had been before all this, and the sight of the box before that. And it was not because this body looked like something out of a horror movie. It was because I was getting closer to discovering, to confirming, that this body had once been my son. And I couldn't let anyone in the room know what I was feeling right then. I didn't want them to think even for a moment that I was not up to this. They might try to take this moment away from me. I couldn't let them stop me from going through with it. If I was stopped one more time, I don't know what I would have done. I'm not sure that I could have worked myself back up to it again. I had to steel myself like a forensic doctor. I had a job to do" (134). Keith A. Beauchamp's documentary The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till helped to reopen the unsolved 50-year-old case of Till's murder in Money, MS, leading to the exhumation of his body. Jet magazine photographer David Jackson took a picture of Emmett Till's body, after Ms. Mobley insisted on an open casket. It was published in September 1955, a week before an all-white jury acquitted Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam of the murder; three months later, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus, and later she linked that decision to her shock at seeing the images of Till's brutalized body. Eight years later in 1963 the world was shocked by the bombing of a Black Birmingham, AL, church in the midst of the Civil Rights protest movement. The bombing killed four Black girls: 11-year-old Denise McNair, and 14-year-olds Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, and Carole Robertson. More than a decade passed before a notorious white supremacist, Robert "Dynamite Bob" Chambliss, was convicted of the crime; his alleged co-conspirators were never charged. Spike Lee's film Four Little Girls documents this tragedy.
3. In Notes on the State of Virginia, Jefferson states: "I advance it therefore as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the Whites in the endowments both of body and mind. It is not against experience to suppose, that different species of the same genus or varieties of the same species, may possess different qualifications … The slave, when made free, might mix with, without staining the blood of his master. But with us a second is necessary, unknown to history. When freed, he is to be removed beyond the reach of mixture" (143).
4. See Cheryl Harris, "Whiteness as Property" Harvard Law Review.
5. In Jones' Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow, she states: "White men's persistent violation of black women constituted a more common phenomenon that served as a backdrop for periodic lynchings throughout the South, especially during the years 1890 to 1910. A woman or girl found herself in danger of being attacked whenever she walked down a country road—the poorest type of white man feels at liberty to accost her and follow her and force her." (150). Although she does not address it within her book, there is the possibility that young Black males encountered problems of a sexual nature when they worked in the homes of white people.
6. John Oliver Killens, Youngblood: 4-5. All further references to this work will be given parenthetically.
7. For a discussion of an African American females' resistance to sexual violence, see Melton McLaurin's Celia, A Slave. Celia was 14 when she was purchased by John Newsom. On the journey back to his farm, Newsom raped the young girl, beginning a horrifying pattern of sexual abuse. Finally she confronted him, struck him fatally with a club, was brought to trial, and eventually hanged.
9. In "The Half Ain't Never Been Told" (Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series), John Oliver Killens states that "Black manhood and Black womanhood were hazardous pursuits, inflationary expensive," 283-84.
10. For an in-depth discussion of concept of the African American male as a "buck," see Carlyle Van Thompson's The Tragic Black Buck: Racial Masquerading in the American Literary Imagination.
11. See Toni Morrison, Sula: 71-72.
12. Gilyard relates Killens' historical context for this scene that involved a fight between Black and white students at Pleasant Hill School and the traumatic aftermath. He states: "No White children were apprehended. After the [Black male] children were taken to the courthouse, their mothers were summoned and afforded a choice. Either they could beat their sons in front of the authorities as a lesson not to fight white kids, or they could watch their sons, none of whom was yet a teenager, be carted off to reform school. As much as the mothers hated to do it, every one of them whipped her son to save him from the reformatory"(14).
13. For a discussion of the Rosewood massacre, see Michael D'Orso's Like Judgment Day: The Ruin and Redemption of a Town Called Rosewood.
14. For a discussion of the Wallstreet massacre, see Randall Kennedy's Reconstructing the Dreamland: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, Race Reparations, and Reconciliations (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003); Hannibal B. Johnson's Black Wall Street: From Riot to Renaissance in Tulsa's Historic Greenwood District (Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum, 1998); James S. Hirsch's Riot and Remembrance: The Tulsa Race War and Its Legacy (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2002); Tim Madigan's The Burning: Massacre, Destruction and the Tulsa Riot of 1921 (Thomas Dunne Books, 2001); and Scott Ellsworth's Death in a Promised Land: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921.
15. In Robert F. Williams' Negroes with Guns, Williams relates the "Kissing Case" that strongly suggests the incident that Killens describes. This case occurred in October 1958 involving two local black boys, David Simpson, age 7, and Handover Thompson, age 9, who were arrested and charged with rape, which was punishable by death in North Carolina. This incident began when David and Handover were playing "house" with some little white girls. One of the white girls, Sissy Sutton, sat on Handover's lap and suddenly recognized him as an old playmate (Handover's mother used to be a housekeeper for the Suttons) and kissed him on the cheek. Later on in the afternoon she ran home and told her mother how she had seen Handover and how she was so happy to see him again that she had kissed him. Mrs. Sutton got hysterical when she heard this and she called the police. The two boys were arrested and placed in the county jail; their parents were not immediately notified. The children were sent to the reformatory soon after they were arrested. After much legal battles and the work of the NAACP, the case got national attention. Somebody said something, finally to President Eisenhower, and finally he said something to then-governor Hodges and on February 13, 1959, the children were released (59-61). Along with the Scottsboro Case, which developed from the arrest on March 25, 1931, of nine young blacks in Scottsboro, AL, for the alleged rape of two white girls, this incident represents one of the numerous examples of Black males being falsely accused of raping white females. We can only imagine the psychological trauma that these young Black males, their families, and their communities experienced through these ordeals.
16. The narrative context for Joe Youngblood being shot is that: "Every week this old cracker would short-change him. Fifty cents here and seventy-five cents there. Sometimes he got real bold and went over the dollar mark. Sometimes Joe would mumble something to the cracker, and the cracker would say—‘Go 'long boy, don't waste my time. I don't make no mistakes.’ Sometimes Joe wouldn't say a single word and he would feel his whole manhood being robbed from him, draining him of his manhood, like a giant leech sucking all the blood out of him" (208). Here, Killens reveals another element of consumption where the Black man is emasculated and cheated out of his wages; this process was a fundamental aspect of the sharecropping system that kept Black people in another form of enslavement.
D'Orso, Michael. Like Judgment Day: The Ruin and Redemption of a Town Called Rosewood. New York: Putnam Publication Group, 1996.
Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. 1952. Reprint: New York: Vintage Books, 1985.
Ellsworth, Scott. Death in a Promised Land: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1982.
Gilyard, Keith. Liberation Memories: The Rhetoric and Poetics of John Oliver Killens. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2003.
Harris, Cheryl. "Whiteness as Property." Harvard Law Review 106.8 (1993): 1,705-1,791.
Jefferson, Thomas. Notes on the State of Virginia. 1782. Reprint: New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1987.
Jones, Jacqueline. Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work, and the Family from Slavery to the Present. New York: Vintage Books, 1986.
Killens, John Oliver. "The Half Ain't Never Been Told." Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, ed. Adel Sarkissian. Detroit: Gale, 1985.
———. Youngblood. 1954. Reprint: Athens: Georgia University Press, 1982.
Mclaurin, Melton. Celia, A Slave. New York: Avon Books, 1993.
Morrison, Toni. Sula. 1973. New York: Penguin Group, 1982.
Thompson, Carlyle Van. The Tragic Black Buck: Racial Masquerading in the American Literary Imagination. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2004.
Till-Mobley, Mamie, and Christopher Benson. Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America. New York: Random House, 2003.
Williams, Robert F. Negroes with Guns. 1962. Chicago: Third World Press, 1973.
Gilyard, Keith. "Cultural Heroes." In Liberation Memories: The Rhetoric and Poetics of John Oliver Killens, pp. 79-93. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2003.
Examines Killens's political and social satire in The Cotillion.
Additional coverage of Killens's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Gale: Black Writers, Ed. 2; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 77-80, 123; Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Vol. 2; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 26; Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 10; Contemporary Novelists, Eds. 1, 2, 3, 4; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 33; Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, Ed. 3; and Literature Resource Center.