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Compiled, edited, and newly revised by Ralph Ellison’s literary executor, John F. Callahan, this Modern Library Paperback Classic includes posthumously discovered reviews, criticism, and interviews, as well as the essay collections Shadow and Act (1964), hailed by Robert Penn Warren as “a body of cogent and subtle commentary on the questions that focus on race,” and Going to the Territory (1986), an exploration of literature and folklore, jazz and culture, and the nature and quality of lives that black Americans lead. “Ralph Ellison,” wrote Stanley Crouch, “reached across race, religion, class and sex to make us all Americans.”
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THE COLLECTED ESSAYS OF RALPH ELLISON EDITED AND WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY JOHN F. CALLAHAN PREFACE BY SAUL BELLOW THE MODERN LIBRARY NEW YORK
2003 Modern Library Paperback Edition Biographical note copyright ? 1994 by Random House, Inc. Preface copyright ? 1995 by Saul Bellow Introduction copyright ? 1995 by John F. Callahan All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Modern Library, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Portions of this work have been previously published in Shadow and Act and Going to the Territory. Additionally, some of the essays were previously published in Saturday Review, New Masses, The Nation, The Atlantic, The Harvard Advocate, The New York Times Magazine, and Callaloo. This work was originally published in hardcover by Modern Library, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., in 1995. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA Ellison, Ralph. [Selections. 1995] The collected essays of Ralph Ellison/edited by John F. Callahan preface by Saul Bellow.-Modern Library ed. p cm. ISBN 0-8129-6826-3 (pbk.) 1. Ellison, Ralph-Authorship. 2. Afro-Americans in literature. 3. Afro-Americans-Civilization. I. Callahan,John F. II. Title PS3555.L625A61995 814'.54-dc20 95-4719 Modern Library website address: www.modernlibrary.com Printed in the United States of America 4 6 8 9 7
RALPH ELLI'SON Ralph Waldo Ellison was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on March 1, 1914. His father was a construction foreman and later the owner of a small ice-and-coal business who died when his son was three. Ellison and his younger brother, Herbert, were raised by their mother, who worked as a nursemaid, janitress, and domestic, and was active in politics. As a child he was drawn to music, playing trumpet from an early age and studying classical composition at Tuskegee Institute under the instruction of William L. Dawson. Of his musical influences he later said: "The great emphasis in my school was upon classical music, but such great jazz musicians as Hot Lips Page, Jimmy Rushing, and Lester Young were living in Oklahoma City.... Asit turned out, the perfection, the artistic dedication which helped me as a writer, was not so much in the classical emphasis as in the jazz itself." In July 1936, after his junior year at Tuskegee, Ellison went to New York to earn money for his senior year and to study sculpture, and stayed. In June 1937 his friendship with Richard Wright hegan and led him toward becoming a writer. Ellison also made the acquaintance of Langston Hughes and the painter Romare Bearden, among others. From 1938 until World War II he worked on the New York Federal Writers Project of the WPA. Starting in the late 1930s, he contributed reviews, essays, and short fiction to New Masses, Tomorrow, The Negro Quarterly (of which he was for a time managing editor), New Republic, Saturday Review, Antioch Review, Reporter, and other periodicals. During the war he served in the Merchant Marine, and afterward he worked at a variety of jobs, including freelance photography and the building and installation of audio systems. Over a period of seven years Ellison wrote Invisible Man, which was recognized upon its publication in 1952 as one of the most important works of fiction of its time. It was on the bestseller list for
V1- sixteen weeks and won the National Book Award. Its critical reputation and popularity have only grown in the more than four decades since its publication. Although an excerpt from a second novel was published in Noble Savage in 1960, and seven other selections in various literary magazines between then and 1977, no other long work of fiction has yet appeared under Ellison's name. Shadow and Act (1964) and Going to the Territory (1986) collect essays and interviews written over more than forty years. From 1955 to 1957 Ellison was a fellow of the American Academy in Rome. Returning to the United States, he taught and lectured at a wide range of institutions including Bard College, the State University of New York at Stony Brook, the University of Chicago, Rutgers, Harvard, Brown, and Yale. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969 the Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et Lettres in 1970 by the French Minister of Culture, Andre Malraux and the National Medal of Arts in 1985. He was a charter member of the National Council on the Arts and Humanities, and from 1970 to 1979 was Albert Schweitzer Professor in the Humanities at New York University. After a brief first marriage Ellison married Fanny McConnell in 1946 for more than forty years, until his passing on April 16, 1994, they lived on Riverside Drive in Harlem. Posthumous editions of Ellison's work, edited and with an introduction byJohn F. Callahan, include The Collected Essays ofRalphEllison (1995), Flying Home and OtherStories (1996), and Juneteenth (1998), each published by Random House, Inc.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I wish to acknowledge the generous help of several persons. My research assistant, Adam Francis Bradley, was diligent, dedicated, and efficient gathering Ellison's published articles from various journals and magazines. Nathan A. Scott, Jr., William R. Kenan Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies and Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Virginia, spotted and suggested felicitous corrections to errors in the first editions of Shadow and Act and Going to the Territory. The late Leon Forrest, novelist and professor of English and African American studies at Northwestern University, perceptively responded to queries concerning unpublished essays and speeches. Robert G. O'Meally, Zora Neale Hurston Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, opened his abundant files, provided a tape and transcription of Ellison's 1971 speech honoring William L. Dawson, and offered helpful suggestions about possible sequences for the essays. I am more indebted than I can say to Mrs. Fanny Ellison. She endured and aided my perusal of her late husband's files and papers, and, as Ralph Ellison's "best reader," she shared indispensable information and insight about the composition and context of previously uncollected or unpublished writing.
PREFACE Saul Bellow RALPH ELL I S ON, who died last year at the age of eighty, published only one novel in his lifetime. In 1953 at a Bard College Symposium dinner attended by foreign celebrities, Georges Simenon, who sat at our table, asked Ellison how many novels he had written, and when he learned that there was only one he said, "To be a novelist one must produce many novels. Ergo, you are not a novelist." The author of hundreds of books, writing and speaking at high speed, was not in the habit of pausing to weigh his words. Einstein, a much deeper thinker, had said in reply to a "sociable" lady's question about quantum theory (why, under such and such conditions, was there only one quantum'), "But isn't one a lot, madam'" In Ralph's case it certainly was a lot. Simenon remains readable and enjoyable, but Inspector Maigret is finally like an overly exploited mine. Novels in the suspense genre developed by Simenon can be considered as the chapters of a single fat novel. Maigret belongs to a large family of cops or private eyes, geniuses of detection like Sherlock Holmes or the heroes of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, et al. These gifted men worked honorably at the writers' trade. Ellison did no such thing. He had a calling, not a trade and what we witness in Invisible Man is the discovery by an artist of his true subject matter. Some fifty years after it was published, this book holds its own among the best novels of the century. Toward the end of the fifties, the Ellisons and the Bellows lived together in a spooky Dutchess County house with the Catskills on the western horizon and the Hudson River-"the lordly Hudson," as Paul Goodman has described it-in between. Ralph was then teaching at Bard College, two miles down the road. Ralph's wife, Fanny, had a city job she was, I think, chief fund-raiser for Gordon
Preface S. Seagrave, the Burma Surgeon. My children spent their holidays with me, and occasionally my Aunt Jennie came up from New York. Fanny arrived regularly on Friday evening and returned on Sunday afternoon. As writers are natural solitaries, Ralph and I did not seek each other out during the day. A nod in passing was enough. We had our daily tasks. When he was not writing, Ralph tended his African violets in the emptiness of the sunny ballroom, watering them with a turkey baster. He tinkered in the driveway with his Chrysler engine. He walked in the woods with the black Labrador retriever he had bought from John Cheever. Cheever didn't live nearby-he was in Ossining-but we did have literary company in Dutchess County. Richard Rovere lived in Rhinebeck near him was Fred Dupee Gore Vidal had bought a fine house on the riverbank just beyond the New York Central tracks. Ralph and I in our slummy mansion could not entertain these far more prosperous literary country squires. The Dupees and the Roveres gave us dinner from time to time, and Gore Vidal viewed us with a certain ironic pity socially we didn't exist for him. A complex character, Gore, a man of the world in many worlds. "A campy patrician," said Ralph. We were as amused by him as he was by us. As for me, well, Max Weber described the Jews as aristocratic pariahs. Ralph himself had an aristocratic demeanor. No one in our Dutchess County group was altogether free from pride. Gore had genealogical claims, and money as well. Dupee had his affinities with Henry James and Marcel Proust. The presence of aJew or a Negro in any group is apt to promote a sense of superiority in those whowhatever else-are neither Jews nor Negroes. The only genuine democrat in our literary set was Dick Rovere. Ralph had the bearing of a distinguished man. Proper pride, Aristotle might have called it-an appropriate kind of avowal. A man should claim his due. And why shouldn't he have thought well of himself? A young Negro from Oklahoma City and Tuskegee, he had set his sights high he had learned from Malraux as well as from Richard Wright,
Preface Xl and with Invisible Man he had earned the right to be taken seriously. Unlike the majority of his Negro contemporaries he was not limited in his interests to the race problem. He was an artist. In the Tivoli, New York, mansion, locally known as the Larrabee farm most of the great rooms were empty. We did not seek each other out. We occasionally passed each other in the bare corridors. Our habitual meeting place was the flagstone-paved kitchen at breakfast and again at cocktail time. In the morning Ralph came below in a many-colored dressing gown from North Africa-a Joseph's coat one was not likely to see elsewhere in the Hudson Valley. On his feet were substantial slippers that turned up at the toes, Turkish style. Silent, he brewed coffee in a Chemex (and for the last forty years I have followed the same method). As he waited for the water, carefully measured to work through the grounds, he would occasionally massage his nose so strongly that you could hear the crack of the cartilage. Perhaps the object was to expel the sleep from his face. I never asked him why it was only in the morning that he did it. There was little or no conversation at breakfast. But late in the afternoon Ralph mixed martinis, and we didn't drink them in silence. During our long conversations I came to know his views, some of which I shall now transmit in his own words. "We did not develop as a people in isolation," Ralph told James MacPherson in an interview. "We developed within a context of white people. Yes, we have a special awareness, because our experience has in certain ways been different from that of white people, but it was not absolutely different." "I tell white kids that instead of talking about black men in a white world or black men in a white society, they should ask themselves how black they are, because black men have been 'influencing the values of the society and the art forms of the society...." "For me," Ralph said, "some effort was necessary . . . before I could identify the areas of life and personality which claimed my mind beyond any limitations apparently imposed by my racial identity."
Preface And again: "This was no matter of sudden insight but of slow and blundering discovery of a struggle to stare down the deadly and hypnotic temptation to interpret the world and all its devices in terms of race." It took great courage in a time when racial solidarity was demanded, or exacted, from people in public life, to insist as Ralph did on the priority of art and the independence of the artist. "Fiction," he says, "became the agency of my efforts to answer the questions: Who am I, what am I, how did I corne to be? What should I make of the life around me? ... What does American society mean when regarded out of my own eyes, when informed by my own sense of the past and viewed by my own complex sense of the present? ... It is quite possible," he adds, "that much potential fiction by Negro Americans fails precisely at this point: through the writers' refusal (often through provincialism or lack of courage or opportunism) to achieve a vision of life and a resourcefulness of craft commensurate with the complexity of their actual situation. Too often they fear to leave the uneasy sanctuary of race to take their chances in the world of art." He himself did no such thing. I have let Ralph speak for himself, but there is one thing more, of a personal nature, that I should like to add in closing. Often when I think of Ralph a line from e. e. cummings comes to me: "Jesus! He was a handsome man," cummings wrote. He was referring to Buffalo Bill. Ralph did not ride a watersmooth stallion, nor was he a famous marksman, but he did have the look of a man from an earlier epoch, one more sane, more serious and more courageous than our own. SAUL BELLOW is the author of twelve novels and numerous novellas and stories. He is the only novelist to receive three National Book awards, for The Adventures of Augie March, Herzog, and Mr: Sammler's Planet. In 1975 he won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel Humboldt's Gift. The Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to him in 1976. In 1990 Mr. Bellow was presented the National Book Award Foundation Medal for distinguished contribution to American letters.
CONTENTS Biographical Note Acknowledgments Preface by Saul Bellow Introduction byJohn F. Callahan February A Congress Jim Crow Didn't Attend Flamenco "Tell It Like It Is, Baby" SHADOW AND ACT v vii IX xvii 1 5 19 27 47 Introduction 49 I. THE SEER AND THE SEEN That Same Pain, That Same Pleasure: An Interview 63 Twentieth-Century Fiction and the Black Mask of Humanity 81 Change and Joke and Slip the Yoke 100 Stephen Crane and the Mainstream of American Fiction 113 Richard Wright's Blues 128 Beating That Boy 145 Brave Words for a Startling Occasion 151 The World and the Jug 155 Hidden Name and Complex Fate 189 The Art of Fiction: An Interview 210 II. SOUND AND THE MAINSTREAM Living with Music 227 The Golden Age, Time Past 237 As the Spirit Moves Mahalia 250
XlV Contents On Bird, Bird-Watching and Jazz 256 The Charlie Christian Story 266 Remembering Jimmy 273 Blues People 278 III. THE SHADOW AND THE ACT Some Questions and Some Answers 291 The Shadow and the Act 302 The Way It Is 310 Harlem Is Nowhere 320 An American Dilemma: A Review 328 Working Notes for Invisible Man 341 A Special Message to Subscribers 351 Indivisible Man 357 James Armistead Lafayette 401 Commencement Address at the College of William and Mary 409 Address to the Harvard College Alumni, Class of 1949 419 Haverford Statement 431 Homage to William L. Dawson 437 Alain Locke 443 Roscoe Dunjee and the American Language 453 Presentation to Bernard Malamud of the Gold Medal for Fiction 465 Introduction to the Thirtieth Anniversary Edition of Invisible Man 473
Contents GOING TO THE TERRITORY The Little Man at Chehaw Station On Initiation Rites and Power: A Lecture at West Point What These Children Are Like The Myth of the Flawed White Southerner If the Twain Shall Meet What America Would Be Like Without Blacks Portrait of Inman Page: A Dedication Speech Going to the Territory An Extravagance of Laughter Remembering Richard Wright Homage to Duke Ellington on His Birthday The Art of Romare Bearden Society, Morality and the Novel "A Very Stern Discipline" The Novel as a Function of American Democracy Perspective of Literature "A Completion of Personality": A Talk with Ralph Ellison On Being the Target of Discrimination Bearden Notes for Class Day Talk at Columbia University Foreword to The BeerCan by the Highway Address at the Whiting Foundation xv 493 524 546 556 567 581 589 595 617 663 680 688 698 730 759 770 787 823 833 841 847 853
INTRODUCTION John F. Callahan IN his 1988 eulogy for the painter Romare Bearden, Ralph Ellison made the collage a metaphor for America. Paying tribute to the artist as "a great master of collage," Ellison told his mourners that "we are a collage of a nation, a nation that is ever shifting about and grousing as we seek to achieve the promised design of democracy." He considered the country and the culture to be compositions forged out of the experimental attitude and improvisatory impulse so unsuppressible in American experience. As discrete compositions and an unfolding oeuvre, Ellison's essays, too, are literary variations on the form and materials of collage. In shape, he wrote, "my essays tend to be somewhat 'mammy-made' or eclectic," meaning that they have the fluid, familiar yet arresting texture of jazz improvisations on a wellknown theme. Grounding his riffs and variations on the bass line of American identity, Ellison pursues the copious, contradictory manifestations of this country's "promised design of democracy." Whether writing autobiographical essays about his life and times in Oklahoma, Tuskegee, or New York City literary essays in which he reminds us that the American ideal is equality, the American theory pragmatism, and the American style the vernacular music criticism in which he articulates how "in improvised jazz, performance and creation can consist of a single complex act" or cultural criticism reminiscent of HenryJames's "conscientious consciousness," Ellison interprets the American scene. Equality, improvisation, pragmatism as enacted by the American "thinker-tinker," the vernacular consciousness, and that unity born of true complexity: these outcroppings of the American theme mark the terrain of everything Ellison wrote, fiction and nonfiction alike. The territory he explores as an essayist becomes a slowly settled, open country of the imagination through which he pursues the meaning and mystery, the promise and betrayals, and above all the complex past, present, and future possibilities of an American democracy.
XV 111 Introduction For Ellison writing is a password to freedom. His writer's middle passage is a liberating examination of the fluid democratic experience wherein "the values, ideals, assumptions and memories of unique individuals and groups reach out across the divisions wrought by our national diversity and touch us all." Keeping in mind the "very stern discipline" of artist and citizen, Ellison observes of our shared American traditions and ideals that "again and again they must be given further extension." In essay after essay, from his 1940 "A Congress Jim Crow Didn't Attend" to the 1992 Address at the Whiting Foundation, he writes simultaneously of the ideal, actual, and aspired-to condition of the American nation. "Geography is fate," Ellison wrote, and he invoked Heraclitus's axiom on more than one occasion. Who we are is bound up with where we are, he believed, and, unsurprisingly, Oklahoma, where he was born, has a special provenance in his essays. Despite its prominence as a haven for escaped slaves, its history as the bitter destination of the five great Indian nations compelled to walk the Trail of Tears, and as a freewheeling "Indian territory" opened for white settlement in the late 1880s, Oklahoma did not become a state until 1907, a mere seven years before Ellison's birth. Its fluid, vigorous Southwestern character (maintained in the face of Governor Alfalfa Bill Murray's odiously effective efforts to give it the jim crow texture and laws of a Southern state), encouraged Ellison to dream, along with several other young black companions, of becoming a unifying Renaissance man in a society he hoped he would move closer to fulfilling its democratic ideal of equality and opportunity. Even in his boyhood sense of geography Ellison realized that Oklahoma was the territory (the "Indian nation") lit out for by Huck Finn, that prototypical potential vernacular American Renaissance man. (Later, conscious of his literary descent from Mark Twain, Ellison would write that "the territory is an ideal place-ever to be sought, ever to be missed, but always there.") As a young man pursuing his dream, Ellison aspired to become a symphonic composer, and to equal Wagner by completing his first
Introduction XIX symphony by the time he was twenty-six. From an early age he read widely and voraciously, listening to and beginning to master the improvisational techniques of jazz and the complex forms of classical music. Asked much later if his "desire to be a symphony composer rather than a jazz instrumentalist [stood] for a sort of denial of [his] own cultural situation," he changed the questioner's frequency without hesitation: "No, no. You see, what is often misunderstood nowadays is that there wasn't always this division between the ambitions of jazz musicians and the standards of classical music the idea was to master both traditions." Perhaps, too, Ellison's sense of himself as an Oklahoman became a strong force mediating between North and South in his adult imagination. Frequently in his writing he declares allegiance to ideals embraced fitfully before, during, and after the Civil War by Northerners, though, as he notes in his "Commencement Address at the College of William and Mary," these ideas were first enunciated by Virginians in the eighteenth century. At the same time he is loyal to the human ties and sensuous feel of things associated with the South-what, at Ellison's funeral, novelist William Styron recalled as "Southern matters" cherished by his friend: the love of dogs, whiskey, and hunting that was part of both men's quest for identity and that longing for kinship with the land and the fathers immortalized in Faulkner's "The Bear." As many of his essays attest, Oklahoma offered Ellison a synthesizing principle for his life and art. His background and experience there with music, religion, politics, sports, and sundry odd jobs and occupations made it easier for him to keep to the high ground in that lower-case civil war of literature, culture, art, and politics carried on by many of his contemporaries into the 1950s, 1960s, and beyond. His "cold Oklahoma Negro eye" provided him perspective on Alabama, where he had lived during three years at Tuskegee, and New York-Harlem where he made his home and the other diverse circles of "social hierarchy" in the city where he resided for some fiftyfive years.
xx Introduction "Just before the terrible [Tulsa] riot of 1921," Ellison moved to Gary, Indiana, where his mother's brother lived. Soon after, however, "a depression in steel" aborted the move, and together with his mother and younger brother Herbert, he returned to Oklahoma City. There he stayed until 1933 when, hoboing on the freights of half a dozen railroads, he zigzagged his way to Alabama. In July 1936, after three years at Tuskegee, he made what he thought would be a temporary move to New York to earn money for his senior year. The plan didn't work out besides, New York was a seductive artistic, intellectual, and social milieu for the aspiring composer, so he stayed. His early New York years were interrupted by some six months in Dayton, Ohio, occasioned by his mother's unexpected fatal illness and death in October 1937. Soon after returning in 1938 to work on the Federal Writers Project, Ellison became a quintessential New Yorker-an Oklahoman who adopted and was adopted by the city. There he met many who, like him, brought vivid memories to New York and were sustained by a continuing inner experience of their places of origin. As a black American staking his claim to the society's "unknown territory" of art and imagination, Ellison strove to make the invisible visible, the unheard heard. Asked by the Paris Review in 1955 if "the search for identity is primarily an American theme," he dropped his right hand, paused, and followed with a mock uppercut to the interviewer's chin before replying: "It is the American theme." Ellison sought a formal center of gravity for his essays, knowing that there is little which is static or simple about the country's epluribus unum creed. He "was aware that when one attempts to mix literary modes in the interest of making disparate materials into rhetorical wholes one runs the risk of leaving structural holesYET." In the name of complexity Ellison accepts "structural holes" as a fair price for embracing the "disparate materials" of his culture. Nevertheless, as his musician's ear caught the bottled-up quality of idiom and cadence, he broke up his sentence with "YET." Ellison's "YET" is characteristic of his resilient, syncopated style. Sounding a
Introduction XXl jazzman's note in the midst of a somewhat stuffy and formal etude, a note as "irreverent" as what he called, describing Invisible Man's intrusion into his writer's consciousness in the summer of 1945, "a hanky-tonk trumpet blasting through a performance, say, of Britten's War Requiem," Ellison bends the essay into a vernacular as well as a classical form-in short, into a collage. In this spirit he brews his essays out of "disparate materials" from every facet of American life. Low and high and in the middle it makes no difference, he might have said of these diverse vernacular ingredients: "It all good." The vernacular Ellison inhaled from the music and speech riding the air in Oklahoma City was more than what he called "our most characteristic American style." For him, vernacular became "a dynamic process in which the most refined styles from the past are continually merged with the play-it-by-eye-and-by-ear improvisations which we invent in our efforts to control our environment and entertain ourselves." To bridge classical and vernacular idioms and techniques' he remembered and relied on the black church as a nourishing, inspirational, sometimes underground national institution' "wherein you heard the lingering accents of nineteenthcentury rhetoric with its emphasis upon freedom and individual responsibility, a rhetorical style which gave us Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, Harriet Beecher Stowe and the other abolition-preaching Beechers. Which gave us Frederick Douglass,]ohn]asper and many other eloquent and heroic Negroes whose spirit still moves among us through the contributions they made to the flexibility, music and idealism of the American language." In the rhythms and periods of this passage from "Remembering Richard Wright" (1971), Ellison's prose moves across nineteenth-century waters to a twentiethcentury territory where he puts modern literary craft in touch with the techniques of oratorical eloquence. He chose for ancestors those rhetoricians who assumed a responsibility for the American language consciously bound up with their responsibility for the nation's and their own moral identity.
XXII Introduction "Either I'm nobody or I'm a nation," declares one of poet Derek Walcott's characters. This memorable line calls up Ellison's dangerous whole-souled commitment to American identity-what Invisible Man called the "beautiful absurdity of [our] American identity"-and his embrace of citizenship as a necessary affirmation of what Invisible Man identified as "the principle." Yet there was nothing easy or unexamined about Ellison's allegiance. As he wrote in response to the claim that he was a patriotic writer: "It ain't the theory which bothers me, it's the practice. My problem is to affirm while resisting." And his complex individual passion about American identity and "the moral imperatives of American life" only intensified his allegiance to his people, his group. "We need as many individuals developing their individual talents as possible," he told James Alan McPherson, "but dedicating some part of their energies to the group." About his own efforts as a conscious and conscientious member of the tribe, Ellison is positively fierce: "And damnit, I've done that. I've always written out of a sense of the group experience as filtered through my individual experiences, talent, and vision. " Not for nothing did Ellison follow Richard Wright's suggestion that he study HenryJames's prefaces. Introspection about the meaning and sensibility of black American identity is an imperative for Ellison. "We do too little of this," he once said of the need to "evaluate Negro experience from the inside." He went on to bear witness to the fact that "over and over again when we find bunches of Negroes enjoying themselves, when they're feeling good and in a mood of communion, they sit around and marvel at what a damnably marvelous human being, what a confounding human type the Negro American really is." Here, on Ellison's ground, is the case for his conviction that "the way home we seek is that condition of man's being at home in the world, which is called love, and which we term democracy." According to Ellison's paradox, the type of individual who evolved into the black American did so within the American crucible despite and, perforce, because of terrific obstacles. More
Introduction XXIII than that, Ellison's essays revisit Invisible Man's speculation that "they had exhausted in us some-not much, but some-of the human greed and smallness, yes, and the fear and superstition that had kept them running." Ellison's compassionate, exacting focus on Abraham Lincoln and other figures from the American past prefigures Reverend Hickman's brooding testimony in the novel-in-progress that "[Lincoln] joined us in what we have been forced to learn about living." Like Lincoln and Lincoln's friend and sometime moral adversary Frederick Douglass, Ellison would sustain and enhance the self's union as well as the nation's. In Ellison's case, the union in question was the union of musician with writer, jazzman with classicist, black man with American, and the man of form with the respecter of chaos. In terms of race, self, and nation much has been made of the way Invisible Man's last words-"Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you'"-generalize the predicament of invisibility from its specific location in African-American experience. But without the rich, vivid, various explicitness of the black American experience, including the protest, which the author put into Invisible Man , the novel would have lacked universal appeal. The book's power to compel others to see their reality through the prism of African-American experience rests on Ellison's fidelity to the particulars of that experience. Clothed in the discursive prose and Burkean "representative anecdotes" of his essays, Ellison's theme remains the complexity of the African-American experience. Convinced of its indivisibility from American experience, he offers his readers lessons in how to see and hear "around corners," insisting that "whatever else the true American is, he is also somehow black." None of this implies that Ellison minimizes the racial injustice perpetrated by Americans, often in the name of America. (" 'If It's Optic White, It's the Right White" goes the motto of Liberty Paints in Invisible Man. Threaded through Ellison's essays like a watermark
XXIV Introduction is one taut acknowledgment after another of racial oppression in America. The physical, psychological, and emotional cruelties of slavery are here, and so are the legal, illegal, and habitual violent betrayals of Reconstruction. So are lynching and its rippling effects of fear and terror. So are painful incidents of discrimination from Ellison's youth and adulthood. Far from ignoring the attempts to compel black Americans into permanent social, political, economic, cultural, and psychological inequality and inferiority, Ellison makes his people's condition and status the testing ground for the ideals and the experiment of the nation. For him the Civil War, Reconstruction, and its tragic aftermath were the crux of American history and the most dramatic instances of the country's struggle with the potentially fatal contradiction between its democratic theory and practice. Notwithstanding the victories and advances of the civil rights movement, which Ellison noted and rejoiced in, he observed that the American Civil War had "continued on as civil war, lower case, in which that war of arms was replaced by a war of politics, racial and ethnic violence, ritual sacrifice based on race and color, and by economic and judicial repression." Asking "if indeed the outcome of that war has yet been decided," he told a group of Harvard alumni in a 1974 address that "quite frankly it is my opinion that it is still in the balance, and only our enchantment by the spell of the possible, our endless optimism, has led us to assume that it ever really ended." Therefore the challenge to national moral identity revolves around a "play-it-by-eyeand-by-ear" pursuit of the ideal reminiscent of the vernacular style in music, literature, and, for that matter, every facet of what we call American culture. To complement the vernacular and counterpoint his sense of nemesis in the wake of American hubris, Ralph Waldo Ellison falls back "upon the teaching of that earlier Ralph Waldo." He calls for "conscience and consciousness, more consciousness and more conscientiousness!" Ellison also riffs upon that "spirit of public happiness" with which John Adams and his fellow revolutionaries,
Introduction xxv including slaves like James Armistead Lafayette, pledged their "lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor" to the elusive "principle" in the Declaration. From 1937 when, at Richard Wright's urging, Ellison published his first piece, a review of Waters Edward Turpin's novel, These Low Grounds (even here he called for "greater development in technique" and "closer examination of consciousness"), until his passing in 1994, he wrote more than seventy-five essays, addresses, reviews, and conference talks. Almost half of these, along with a few of his numerous interviews, were collected in Shadow and Act (1964) and Going to the Territory (1986). Most of the essays, he noted in his introduction to Shadow and Act, "are occasional pieces, written for magazines whose editors provided opportunities for me to reduce my thinking-indeed, often to discover what I did think-to publishable form." His observations about the occasional and improvisational nature of Shadow and Act hold true for the work in Going to the Territory and for the uncollected and the unpublished pieces included here. Occasion is truly the given of his essays. The Modern Library Collected Essays includes complete texts of the first editions of Shadow and Act and Going to the Territory, to which I have made silent minor corrections. I have also included eleven previously published but uncollected essays: "February" (1955), "Flamenco" (1954), "A Congress Jim Crow Didn't Attend" (1940), "Tell It Like It Is, Baby" (1965), "A Special Message to Subscribers" (1980), "Alain Locke" (1974), "Presentation to Bernard Malamud of the Gold Medal for Fiction" (1983), "Introduction to the Thirtieth Anniversary Edition of Invisible Man" (1982), "On Being the Target of Discrimination" (1989), "Bearden" (1988), and Ellison's Foreword to the 1988 reissue of John Kouwenhoven's The Beer Can by the Highway-again with minor silent corrections. Of these, "A Congress Jim Crow Didn't Attend" was written earliest, in 1940. I selected it for its intrinsic merit and as an intriguing example
XXVi In troduction of the more than thirty articles and reviews Ellison wrote for New Masses and other publications on the left in the late 1930s and early 1940s.* From Ellison's interviews I chose James Alan McPherson's "Indivisible Man" and "A Completion of Personality" conducted by the late John Hersey. Both of these emerged from conversations over many months and, in the case of the Hersey piece, years. In each, departing from his usual silence, Ellison engages in extended discussion of what he had done and what he aspired to do on his unfinished second novel. Finally, the Collected Essays includes nine pieces that appear in print for the first time. For one of these, Ellison's lyrical homage to William L. Dawson at a 1971 Tuskegee Club banquet in Philadelphia, I am indebted to Professor Robert G. O'Meally of Columbia University, who generously provided a tape and transcript which I edited into the present text. Like the writer's other essays and addresses, these nine are occasional and are instances of his continuing fascination with the complexities of leadership and identity for black Americans. The essays on James Armistead Lafayette (1974), William L. Dawson (1971), Roscoe Dunjee (1972), and, in powerful generalized fashion, Ellison's "Haverford Statement" (1969) and "Working Notes for Invisible Man" (undated) celebrate the special contributions of the African-American to the originality of American life. Along with the "Commencement Address at the College of William and Mary" (1972), the "Address to the Harvard College Alumni, Class of 1949" (1974), "Notes for Class Day Talk at Columbia University" (1990), and "Address at the Whiting Foundation" (1992), they show the continuity of Ellison's preoccupation with identity, the cultural and social metamorphoses around him, and the democratic flux of American life in the late twentieth century. *See Robert G. O'Meally's bibliography, "The Writings of Ralph Ellison," in Speaking for You: The Vision of Ralph Ellison, ed. Kimberly Benston (Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1987), pp. 411-19.
Introduction XXVll As he grew older, Ellison gave himself more and more to making sense of the American experience "through the wry perspective of sanity-saving comedy." In his last essays, especially "Bearden," "Notes for Class Day Talk at Columbia University," and his ''Address at the Whiting Foundation," his sensibility approaches serenity. His mind continues to defy shallow simplicities and easy categories of perception and experience-whether from right, left, or center. And his prose grows luminous with an ever-stronger faith in the possibilities-not the achievement, but the possibilities-of the American ideal. The wisdom of the last essays is all the more moving because of Ellison's spirit of playfulness. For example, he closes his "Class Day" notes with a witty, admonishing paraphrase of Francis Thompson's "The Hound of Heaven" in which he transforms God's hound into the "ideal of social equality"-recall Invisible Man's slip of "social equality" for "social responsibility." Pursued by our outraged ideal even as we flee it, in Ellison's conceit Americans hear the indignant voice of our sacred democratic muse: ''All things betray thee, who betrayest Me." The sequences Ellison chose for Shadow and Act and Going to the Territory respected continuities of form, idea, and theme more than they did chronology. In similar fashion, the opening sequence of the Collected Essays calls attention to his different guises as essayist: the lyricism of "February," the sense of participation as well as reportage in his stance toward the black voices quoted in ''A Congress Jim Crow Didn't Attend," his union of narrative and analytical styles in "Flamenco," and, finally, in "Tell It Like It Is, Baby," his mingling of dream (nightmare, really) with keenly remembered and realized historical details in the flow of the writer's waking consciousness. The sequence following Shadow and Act is framed by essays that reconstruct the origins of Invisible jUan, its genesis and, in the "Working Notes," Ellison's early projection of Invisible Man's evolution into a representative type of the black American, and his preliminary outline of Invisible Man's adventures and fate in New York. In between are essays and addresses which elaborate his sense of the
XXVlll Introduction mythic importance of ritual to American history and delineate the achievements of several black Americans, as well as the special responsibilities of black intellectuals and every American artist. "A Completion of Personality" follows Going to the Territory because of its "aura of a summing up." I conclude the volume with five late essays in which Ellison keeps up the good fight to make "rhetorical wholes" out of the "disparate materials" of his writer's mind and experience. These last pieces resonate with his old determination to be true to his American theme and, if he is lucky (you almost hear him chuckle), to inch along toward "helping this country discover a fuller sense of itself as it goes about making its founders' dream a reality." To the end Ellison is true to the writer's mystery-the pain and pleasure of "pouring into that thing which is being created all of what he cannot understand, cannot say, cannot even admit in any other way." As these last essays spring to life on the page, they "pulsate with those meanings, emotions, ideas brought by [their] audience," and Ellison's word is made flesh. In fulfillment of his writer's dream, "the artifact is a completion of personality." Through the essays flows Ellison's defiant personal responsibility for democracy and for the parallel vernacular experiment of an American culture indivisible from the nation's theory and practice. His "eclectic" and "mammy-made" prose projects two artistic possibilities and realities that he cared about passionately enough to risk the sometimes perilous, self-targeting act of the occasional essay. The first is the American language, the second the mystery, absurdity, and complexity of American identity. The language, Ellison felt, was as supple, fluid, and varied as a jazzman's horn in the range of frequencies it offered to writers. In his 1953 address, "Brave Words for a Startling Occasion," he sees, hears, and feels the language "swirling with over three hundred years of American living, a mixture of the folk, the Biblical, the scientific and the political. Slangy in one stance, academic in another, loaded poetically with imagery at one moment, mathematically bare of imagery in the next," his essays
Introduction XX1X mingle the quirks of idiom and experience he found from Oklahoma to Alabama to New York, and felt as a mysterious complex unity on his travels throughout the American territory. It is this sense of a living American language seething with change, with new accents, expressions, and voices that Ellison keeps faith with through his fluid integration of vernacular and classical. He also keeps faith with what he observes and embraces as "mysterious and uncertain" in American reality and personality. "What's inside you, brother'" he asked in ''A Very Stern Discipline" (1967). "What's your heart like'" As Ellison keeps faith with the theme and language of America, we feel, to paraphrase Woodridge, Invisible Man's literature professor, that essay by essay he has composed his own heart's collage and thereby helped create a culture. Over and over again Ellison improvises variations on Invisible Man's brooding question about the potential and the fate of the American experiment: ''And, could politics ever be an expression of love'" Ellison would have it so, for there appear in this collage of a collection states of mind and being which compose a union of self people, and nation. Always a vigilant kinsman aware of "the chaos which lives within the pattern of [our] certainties," Ralph Waldo Ellison writes with a generosity of spirit and perception that, if heeded, might lead to a true end to the civil war still waged in the personal, political, and cultural provinces of America.
EDITOR'S NOTE This Modern Library Paperback Classics edition of the Collected Essays of Ralph Ellison includes Section II of Ellison's "Working Notes for Invisible jUan," which appears in print here for the first time. In Section I of the "Working Notes" (p. 344), the phrase "tragic national situation" has been corrected to "tragic irrational situation." In addition, I have reversed the sequence of "Flamenco" and ''A Congress Jim Crow Didn't Attend." In the current edition, the latter piece, first published in 1940, follows "February," and offers an immediate glimpse of the young man Ellison had become in Dayton, Ohio, during the winter of 1937-38 after his mother's unexpected death the previous October. Finally, I have made silent minor corrections and revisions to the Acknowledgments page, the Biographical Note on Ellison, and the Editor's Introduction from the original Modern Library cloth edition of 1995. July 2003
FEBRUARY Ellison wrote this lyrical reminiscence long after the desolate winter of 1937-38 when, after his mother's unexpected death in October "in that strange city [Cincinnati, he] had survived three months off the fields and woods by [his] gun through ice and snow and homelessness." "February" was published in Saturday Review, January 1, 1955.
FEBRUARY is a brook, birds, an apple tree-a day spent alone in the country. Unemployed, tired of reading, and weary of grieving the loss of my mother, I'd gone into the woods to forget. So that now all Februarys have the aura of that early morning coldness, the ghost of quail tracks on the snow-powdered brook which I brushed aside as I broke the brook to drink: and how the little quail tracks went up the ice, precise and delicate, into the darker places of the bank-ledge undisturbed. February is climbing up a hill into the full glare of the early sun, alone in all that immensity of snowscape with distant Dayton drowsing wavery to my eyes like the sound of distant horns. It's walking through a parklike grove, the tall trees stark, the knee-high snow windblown and pathless, to a decaying shed sheltering a fine old horsedrawn sleigh, carved and scrolled with traces of goldleaf clinging to its flaking wood. And the birds: I descended into a little valley in the windless quiet and the smell of apples and saw the air erupt with red tracer-bullet streaks of flight-across the snows, a carnival of cardinals. The red birds zoomed, the flickers flew, pheasants roared up like gaudy Chinese kimono rags. My heart beat hard and I saw the single tree, black-limbed against the sky, here and there the miracle of a dark red apple still hanging after months of ice and snow. I bent forward and knelt within the circle of the fruit-fall, searching out an apple missed by the birds. Sweet and mellow to the taste, it had been preserved by the leaves and grasses, protected by the snows. And I recalled the valley of two months before: At the soundof my gun the birdscame up alongthe hill in pairs and swooped with a circling down into the thicket on the otherside, and I hadgone down into the valley, soft, then, with the glow of sunset, andfound the cock quail dead upon the snow, itsplumage undisturbed, the vaporrisingslowly from its sinking blood. . . . And now in this
place of hidden fruit and bird-tracked snow, I was seized with a kind of exhilaration. For I was in my early twenties then, and I had lived through my mother's death in that strange city, had survived three months off the fields and woods by my gun through ice and snow and homelessness. And now in this windless February instant I had crossed over into a new phase of living. Shall I say it was in those February snows that I first became a man'
CONGRESS JIM CROW DIDN'T ATTEND Between 1938 and 1942 Ellison contributed numerous articles and reviews, signed and unsigned, and two short stories to New Masses. ''A Congress Jim Crow Didn't Attend" isa narrative essay with personal andpublic overtones. In it Ellison uses the Third National Negro Congress as an early occasion for speculation on "the ambiguity of Negro leadership. " As he soon woulddo in pieces like "The Way It Is," Ellison celebrates the courageous lives and voices ofordinary Negroes, evendeclaring that "the age of the Negro hero had returned to American life." It was published in New Masses, May 14, 1940.
WE drove all night to beat the crowd. We were going to Washington to attend the Third National Negro Congress. Fog hung over the Delaware roads, over the fields and creeks, so that we could not tell water from grass, except in spots where the fog had lifted. Our headlights brought no answering reflection from the red glass disks on the road signs. Coming out of some town the driver failed to see a road marker and almost wrecked the car. It shook us awake and we talked to keep the driver alert. Then two things happened to give the trip to the Congress a sharp meaning. It was the sun that started it. It appeared beyond the fog like a flame, as though a distant farmhouse was afire. One of the boys remembered Natchez, Mississippi,* and began talking about it. I felt depressed. A friend of mine was from Natchez and some of the victims had his family name and I wondered if any had been his relatives. We talked about conditions down south and I hoped someone from Natchez would attend the Congress, so I could hear about the fire firsthand. Outside of Baltimore we began passing troops of cavalry. They were stretched along the highway for a mile: Young fellows in khaki with campaign hats strapped beneath their chins, jogging stiffly in their saddles. I asked one of my companions where they were going and was told that there was an army camp nearby. Someone said that I would find out "soon enough" and I laughed and said that I was a black Yank and was not coming. But already the troops of cavalry *Ellison refers to the Rhythm Club fire of April 1940 in Natchez, Mississippi. Exits inside the Negro nightclub became blocked while decorations of Spanish moss fueled the flames, and before help arrived over two hundred Negroes burned to death in the crowded club.
were becoming linked in my mind with the Natchez fire. Where were the troops going? We in the car were going to the Third National Negro Congress-but what did that mean? Then I was aware that all five of us in the car were of army age and that just as suddenly as the troops had appeared atop the hill, we might be called to war. Here we were, young Negroes, bitter about the conditions responsible for Natchez and faced with the danger of war, heading for Washington' D.C. I thought about the Congress. I remembered that some of the Negro papers had been carrying glowing accounts of army life and of the joys of the black French soldiers. Would there be many at the Congress who had succumbed to these stories? John L. Lewis had asked the support of the Congress in forming a new political movement-possiblya third party-to continue the New Deal measures forsaken by Roosevelt what would be the response of the Congress? There were rumors that one of the Congress leaders had sold out how would the rank and file react? Would I find in Washington an affirmation of the Negroes' will to unity and freedom that would remove the deep sense of the danger of war which had made the sudden appearance of the troops of cavalry seem like a revelation of our fate? For years Negroes have struggled for that unity, seeking to find their allies sometimes gaining, and sometimes losing ground. And in all Negroes at some period of their lives there is that yearning for a sense of group unity that is the yearning of men for a flag: for a unity that cannot be compromised, that cannot be bought that is conscious of itself, of its strength, that is militant. I had corne to realize that such a unity is unity of a nation, and of a class. I had thought vaguely of the Congress in such terms, but it was more like a hope to be realized. I had not thought to seek this sense of affirmation in it. Now I realized that this was the need it must fill for myself and for others. Negroes from the North, South, East, and West were heading for Washington, seeking affirmation of their will to freedom. They were
Congress Jim Crow Didn't Attend 9 coming with their doubts and with their convictions. It was more than just another trip to another congress. When we entered the suburbs of Washington I noticed that the car moved much more slowly than before and started to ask why. But I remembered: there is always that fear among Negroes going from the North into the South of running afoul of Southern custom and Jim Crow laws. The driver knew that we were driving into the capital of the United States-and of legal Jim Crow. The car nosed its way cautiously. Once in Washington, the first thing to do was to go to convention headquarters and make arrangements for rooms. We drove to the Department of Labor building. It is a new building and we were relieved to see so many Negro faces, to find them in charge. Delegates were already grouped about the big lobby it hummed with conversation. They looked up expectantly as we came through the high portals. We made our way to the tables arranged about the lobby where a number of girls were busy registering delegates. They were pretty girls and we were surprised usually the pretty girls avoided that part of conventions. We were registered and given credentials: a delegate's card, a badge, a list of instructions, which, anlong other things, told us to buy a meal ticket. Under Section 2 it told about housing: After your meal ticket the next important thing is a place to stay. We have done our best. But Washington is a j im Crow town. We have not broken down Jim Crowisrn ... in large hotels. But we have made history in the matter of housing accommodations for Negroes. First: for 119 delegates we have accommodations in the modern up-to-date Washington Tourist Camp-four blocks away from our place .... Second: for 250 delegates we have arranged for the building of an entire village a few yards away from the Washington Monument and two blocks away from the convention meeting place. You will be housed in waterproof tents with wooden floor'..''-..clean linen-individual cots-warm blankets. There will be ample facilities for showers....
10 Also listed were rooms in private homes. I asked why the village had been built and was told that it was a protest against the miserable housing conditions for Negroes in the capital city. So stretched out beneath the long shadow of Washington's monument, we found lying a village of tents like those discovered by Steinbeck's Joads. Not far away is where the annual Cherry Blossom Festival is held. Returning to convention headquarters, we find the delegates pouring in. There is a steady roar of voices. We look about for acquaintances. "Look! What's that guy's name'" I look up a short man with a high forehead and glasses squeezes past. "That's John P. Davis." "Davis, the national secretary'" "Sure." "But I've seen his pictures. I thought he was a big guy." "He's big, all right," someone says. "He told off Dies." "Thought that was Ben Davis." "Yeah, but this one told him too." A tall man in a cattleman's hat has been listening: "Now wasn't that something'" he says, "Both of 'em got him told. All my life I been wanting to see some of our Negro leaders go down there to Congress and let them know how we felt about things. Didn't think I would live to see it, but it happened. And that's why I'm here this morning!" The lobby is still filling. There are young people and old people, both from the farms, the small towns, and the cities. I can tell the New Yorkers by their manner, their confidence. But there are also many faces that I learned to know in the South. And I know that someone has sacrificed to get them here. Some are farmers, others sharecroppers. They look stiff in their "Sunday" clothes. There are many whites also. And on the lapels of both whites and blacks are to be seen the maroon and white "Stop Lynching" buttons. I walk about the lobby, from group to group, trying to see if I can pick out those from down where being militant, being a man, carries a pen-
Congress Jim Crow Didn't Attend 11 alty of dispossession, of flogging, of rape charges, of lynching death. They too are here one, James McMillian, a preacher-coal miner from Kentucky, has felt the sting of a lynch rope around his neck and lived to tell about it. His first question is, "What's being done about the Anti-Lynching Bill'" I talk with a steelworker from Gary, Indiana. He speaks about the war and ties it up to the convention. He is well informed. Passing another group I hear: "I come over three hundred miles to this congress." "Where you come from'" "I come from Zenia, Ohio." "Hell, you ain't come nowhere. I come all the way from Texas!" the other said proudly. Behind me now, someone is saying: "They tell me John L. Lewis is going to be here." "That's right, it's here in the program." "You know, I been wanting to see that guy. I want to get up close, so's I can see what he looks like." "He sure is talking my way these days. Because from what I know about the Triple A and the FSA out there in Arkansas where I come from, he's talking sense!" "He sounds all right to me, too, but I want to see what he looks like." "Well, he'll be here." I walk inside the auditorium where the convention is to be held. The carpet is thick and deep blue, the ceiling high and soothing to the eyes. In front, on both sides of the speakers' platform, there are gigantic columns that seem to pull you upward, out of yourself, as your eyes follow them aloft. The auditorium had that overwhelming air usually associated with huge churches, and I remembered what Andre Malraux once said about the factory becoming for the workers what the cathedral formerly was, and that they must come to see in it not ideal gods but human power struggling against the earth. The building is dedicated
12 to labor. I hoped that what was to happen there during the Congress would help bring nearer that transformation of which Malraux wrote. When I walked outside the building I learned that it was, for the three days of the convention, sacred ground. I suggested to one of my companions that we go uptown for a bite to eat in a cafeteria. He reminded me simply that we were in Washington. The Congress began that evening, called to order by the rapping of a gavel made from timber from the last slave ship to touch American shores. There on the platform were the speakers. John L. Lewis appeared with his daughter, Kathryn, and there was a burst of applause from the audience. Lewis spoke plainly and with force, and was frequently interrupted by applause. The audience was with him. He spoke like a man who knew how to speak to ordinary folks, and they understood him and agreed with him. Lewis said: No group in the population feels more heavily the burden of unemployment and insecurity than the Negro citizens. . . . The denials of civil liberties lie with heavy discrimination upon Negroes. Only when these economic and political evils are wiped out will the Negro people be free of them. I therefore call upon you to join in common cause with labor that we may seek out as American citizens together those political means and instruments by which the common welfare may be promoted.... Then as his final word was spoken and applause roared up, they saw John P. Davis step forward and halt Lewis before he could return to his seat. He spoke into the microphone. "I am going to ask Mr. Lewis to come forward with two Negro coal miners who know better than any other group of Negro people of the character, of the leadership of the president of the Congress of Industrial Organizations." There was a burst of applause and the flashing of press cameras as Davis presented Lewis with a plaque for his "distinguished service to the Negro people." In his acceptance Lewis stated what
Congress Jim Crow Didn't Attend 13 his offer to the Congress seems to prove and what Negroes throughout the country are beginning to believe: You know, I am one American who believes in equality of opportunity for the Negro people. And I do not try to conceal the fact in fact, I am rather anxious that a great many people find out about our views in this country and I am doing what I can to educate them on that particular point. From the applause I was quite sure there was not a single person in the auditorium who did not see in the ceremony a historical importance. Following John L. Lewis came A. Philip Randolph. He brought into play that deep, resonant voice which had helped him to the presidency of the largest Negro union and of the National Negro Congress itself. The audience was quiet, waiting for him to reveal himself. Several of his recent actions had been strange his name had appeared in places where the members had not expected to see it, and they were waiting for him to confirm the faith that had led them to make him their president. He spoke of the world crisis, of the split in the ranks of labor, of unemployment. But his voice droned out abstract phrases statistics rolled forth the speech became involved, and through it sounded unmistakable notes of Red-baiting. From time to time he said things which the people felt strongly and they applauded. But soon they became restless they had heard these arguments before, arguments that sounded strange in the mouth of one who was supposed to be their leader. The speech continued and, before its end, delegates were leaving the auditorium. I had sat through the address with a feeling of betrayal. I did not realize it, but I had witnessed a leader in the act of killing his leadership. In his report next morning the national secretary, John P. Davis, voiced the things the delegates felt. He spoke out for the program that they wished to support, and, judging from the reception of the speech, the delegates were assured that theirs was a common will. We want peace for ourselves and America [Davis said].
14 We want peace and freedom for the peoples of India, of China, of Africa.... The administration is taking sides in this imperialist conflict. Its actions menace our neutrality and our peace. We must join with labor, we must join with youth to insist upon an end to this disastrous policy.... The American Negro people will refuse to follow American imperialism in an attack upon the Soviet Union, will refuse to fall victim to antiSoviet adventures.... I have witnessed the real and genuine equal rights of its [the Soviet Union's] many nations and people busy and working in amity, collaboration, and peace. I know of their deep friendship and aid to all oppressed people. The whole spirit of the convention rose and enthusiasm mounted. That afternoon the delegates divided into several panels. The discussions on economic security were led by Louis Burnham, a young man from Harlem. Goldie Ervin of Pennsylvania, an intense young woman, spoke on the problems of the Negro woman. David Lasser of the Workers Alliance was greeted by the audience as a friend. He spoke on unemployment. Other panels were in progress and the delegates discussed their problems with Congressman Marcantonio of New York, with Joseph Gelders of Alabama, and other leaders from urban centers. But I am looking for those whose very presence here means a danger faced and a fear conquered, and danger to be faced again. She is a tall black woman from Arkansas. She has asked to address the panel on economic security. She walks slowly to the microphone, and when she raises her head there are strands of gray hair beneath her flopping black straw hat. She is not accustomed to speaking through a microphone and has to be instructed to stand before it. She speaks slowly: Ladies and gentlemen, I'm here to tell youall that we in Arkansas is having a tight time. Folks down there is working for 60 and 75 cents a day. Folks with kids, I mean. Now youall know that ain' nothing fo' no folks with children to be gitting.
Congress Jim Crow Didn't Attend I come up here to tell youall about it and to ask youall if there's anything youall can do fo' us down in Arkansas, please to do it. I was proud to come. I mean I was proud to come to this Congress. I was proud my people sent me. You know, we got other people down there who wants to see the hard tasks done. But they's shaky. They's scared they'd be moved off the land. Well, I tell 'em that they moving every day anyhow! I told them if they put me off the land I'll go. I'll do like them folks out there in Missouri done: let 'em put me out on the highway. They got to do something for me. They bet' not harm me. An' if they was to kill me, they'd have to bury me. So I'm just on they hands. I'm looking for better conditions for my people. Well, I want to thank youall for letting me tell you 'bout Arkansas. It ain't all I got to tell you, but it's all for right now. Later on I'm going to tell you some more. 15 She searches in her bag, brings forth what appears to be a roll of bills. Oh, yes, I forgot to tell youall about this. Now there's lots of other people down there what wants to come up here. But they ain't got no money. They works all day for 60 and 75 cents and when they through they gits paid off in this stuff. She holds the bills so the audience may see. I forgits what they calls it-oh, yes, that's right, it's scrip. Scrip. This is what they pay you with. They even got they own money them planters I mean. You git this and you have to take it to what they call the commissary store to spend it. You cain't spend it nowhere else. So you see, they's other people who would be up here today, but they ain't got no money. That's the way things is down where I come from. I got lots more to tell youall, but I ain't going to take up any more of youall's time right now. An' I want' thank youall agin for letting me speak.
16 After the session I found her in the crowd. The city people were shaking her hand. I asked her to tell me more of conditions in Arkansas. She told me that the men were being thrown out of work by mechanical plows, that the children had no fuel for their schoolhouse-how could they learn? She told me that a merchant, upon hearing that the people were trying to send her to the Congress, had given the cannery and agricultural union a contribution. She is the president of her local union, an affiliate of the CIO with 260 members. There is a calm dignity about this woman. Where did she get it? I asked her about religion. "Well, son," she told me, "we used to go to the graveyard and preach to folks 'bout heaven. But I done found that the way to serve Christ is by helping folks here on earth." What I found among the delegates was a temper of militant indignation. They were people sure of their strength. I listened to Owen Whitfield, the hero of the convention. In many of the speeches I had heard the names Gabriel, Denmark Vesey, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass. And in these mouths the names had a new meaning. And I suddenly realized that the age of the Negro hero had returned to American life. Whitfield led the Missouri highway demonstration of last year. He is the father of twelve children, a farmer for thirty-five years. He speaks with the skill of the Negro folk-preacher, in terms and images the people understand. The people from the farm country shout "Amen!" and "It's the truth!" Whitfield is of the earth and his speech is of the earth, and I said "Amen!" with the farmers. His is not a speech from above, like Randolph's. He speaks with pride of his Missouri people, and the audience is with him when he lashes out at leaders who avoid positive action out of fear of their "status." Whitfield sacrificed his home and farm and led his wife and family out with two thousand white and black families to face the January weather and the Missouri Highway Patrol. His is the pride of one who knows what it means to fight and win. He made the nation listen to the voices of his people. Hank johnson is an urban hero. He is a powerful brown-skinned
Congress Jim Crow Didn't Attend 17 man over six feet tall. His face is round and in it there is the humor of a small boy. Hank entered the building trades when he was twelve. He and his father were made to pay a Texas local of the AFL a fee for work permits higher than the regular union dues and were not allowed to attend union meetings. He is now a CIO organizer from the Chicago region and led in organizing the packing-house workers. "How can I defend America right or wrong'" he asks. "I am as good an American as anybody, but what would I do if I went down round my home in Austin, Texas, and reported some spies, but got myself lynched'" What Hank]ohnson did to me is hard to convey. I have seen many of my friends frustrated in their effort to create themselves. They are boys full of protest and indignation who have no social outlet. They are unhappy working at jobs they hate, living under restrictions they hate. Hank]ohnson was like one of them transformed. He is full of indignation, but indignation that has found a direction. When he spoke, all the violence that America has made our Negro heritage was flowing from him transformed into a will to change a civilization. The people said of him: "That Hank]ohnson, he's my kinda Negro." Whitfield and Johnson and the people behind them are the answer to those who wonder why there is such a scramble to raise the Booker T. Washington symbol anew in Negro life why a bad documentary film of Tuskegee's Carver found distribution through RKO. A new pole of leadership has developed among the Negro people, and the National Negro Congress is their organization. It came suddenly out of the betrayal of the New Deal. First there was the highway demonstration of Missouri then the defiance of the Klan in Florida, and later Ben Davis "got Dies told." All these things I felt in the process of crystallization at the Third National Negro Congress. I heard the resolution to join with the CIO and I listened, after Randolph had protested that such an agreement would make for controversy, to a delegate shout out from the floor: "Peonage, Anti-Lynch Bill, poll tax, these are our issues. They are the most controversial issues in American life, and some
18 of us will have to die for them! Yes, we want to join with the CIO! We cannot stop for controversy!" And there in the faces of my people I saw strength. There with the whites in the audience I saw the positive forces of civilization and the best guarantee of America's future.
FLAMENCO Ellison had a long-standing passionfor flamenco. Invisible Man hears "an oldwoman singinga spiritualasfull of Weltschmerz asflamenco." In 1954 after lecturing at the Harvard seminars in Salzburg, Ellison heardflamenco in Madrid and Paris. This essay describes the oldmasters Vicente Escudero and Pepe el del Matrona, and the connections Ellison finds between Spanish folklore and music and American vernacular, especially the blues. "Flamenco" waspublished in Saturday Review, December 11, 1954.
RECENTLY in Paris in Leroy Haynes's restaurant in the Rue de Martyrs, where American Negro fliers and jazz musicians bend over their barbecue and red beans and rice in an attitude as pious as that of any worshiper in Sacre Coeur, which dominates Montmartre above, a gypsy woman entered and told my fortune. She was a handsome woman, dressed in the mysterious, many-skirted costume of the gypsies, and she said that I was soon to take a journey, and that I was to find good fortune. I said jokingly that I had had good fortune, for after dreaming of it for many years I had been to Madrid. "You went when you should have gone," she said, peering at my hand. "Had you gone earlier you might have found death. But that is of the past. I speak of good fortune in the future." "There I heard real flamenco," I said, "and that is a good fortune I shall never forget." "Flamenco," she said. "You understand flamenco? Then you must go see Escudero. You must hear Pepe el del Matrona and Rafael Romero." "I've heard of Escudero," I said, "but who are these others'" "You will see," she said. "You will see and hear also." "This is real good fortune," I said. "I thought Escudero was dead." "Not dead," she said, holding my hand over a damp spot on the tablecloth, "only old. But to see him is a little more than to take a walk. The fortune of your hand comes after a journey over water." She then offered, for a further consideration, to tell me other things, but this was enough. I was amused (for sure enough we were flying home two days hence), my wife and friends were laughing that I had submitted to having my palm read, and the knowledge that the legendary Vicente Escudero was dancing again after so many years of retirement was enough good fortune for anyone day.
22 So that evening we saw the old master in the full glory of his resurrection. Dry, now, and birdlike in his grace, Escudero is no longer capable of floor-resounding vigor, but conveys even the stamping fury of the Spanish dance with the gentlest, most delicate, precise, and potent of gestures and movement-reasserting in terms of his own medium a truth which Schumann-Heink, Roland Hayes, and Povla Frijsh have demonstrated in terms of the art of song: that with the great performer it is his style, so tortuously achieved, so carefully cultivated, which is the last to go down before age. And so with the singer Pepe el del Matrona, who at seventy-four is able to dominate the space of even the largest theatre with his most pianissimo arabesques of sound. But more important here than the inspiring triumph of artistic style over Time was the triumph, in this most sophisticated of Western cities, of Cante Flamenco, a folk art which has retained its integrity and vitality through two centuries during which the West assumed that it had, through enlightenment, science, and progress, dispensed with those tragic, metaphysical elements of human life which the art of flamenco celebrates. Certainly Escudero and Matrona draw a great deal of their vitality from this tradition that contains many elements which the West has dismissed as "primitive," tha t epithet so facile for dernolishing all things cultural which Westerners do not understand or wish to contemplate. Perhaps Spain (which is neither Europe nor Africa but a blend of both) was once more challenging our Western optimism. If so, it was not with pessimism but with an affirmative art which draws its strength and endurance from a willingness to deal with the whole man (Unamuno's man of flesh and blood who must die) in a world which is viewed as basically impersonal and violent if so, through her singers and dancers and her flamenco music she was making the West a most useful and needed gift. I haven't yet discovered the specific nature of the gift of fortune which my gypsy promised me, but until something better appears I'll accept Westminster's new three-volume "Anthology of Cante Fla-
Flamenco 23 menco," which has just won the Grand Prix de Disque, as the answer. Escudero isn't in it, but members of his entourage are: Pepe el del Matrona, Rafael Romero, and the great flamenco guitarist Perico el del Lunar, who along with eight other artists presents thirty-three excellently recorded examples of flamenco song style. Cante Flamenco is the very ancient folk music of the Andalusian gypsies of southern Spain. Its origins are as mysterious as that of those of the gypsies themselves, but in it are heard Byzantine, Arabic, Hebraic, and Moorish elements fused and given the violent, rhythmical expressiveness of the gypsies. Cante Flamenco, or cante hondo (deep song, as the purer, less florid form is called), is a unique blending of Eastern and Western modes and as such it often baffles when it most intrigues the Western ear. In our own culture the closest music to it in feeling is the Negro blues, early jazz, and the slave songs (now euphemistically termed "spirituals"). Even a casual acquaintance with Westminster's anthology reveals certain parallels, and jazz fans will receive here a pleasant shock of recognition. Soon to be released free to those who purchase the "Anthology" is a fortypage booklet containing the text of the songs and a historical survey of flamenco literature written by Professor Tomas Andrade de Silva of the Royal Conservatory at Madrid. Like Negro folk music, Cante Flamenco (which recognizes no complete separation between dance and song, the basic mood, the guitar and castanets, hold all together) is a communal art. In the small rooms in which it is performed there are no "squares" sitting around just to be entertained, everyone participates very much as during a non-commercial jam session or a Southern jazz dance. It can be just as noisy and sweaty and drunken as a Birmingham "breakdown" while one singer "riffs" (improvises) or the dancers "go to town" the others assist by clapping their hands in the intricate percussive manner called palmada and by stamping out the rhythms with their feet. When a singer, guitarist, or dancer has negotiated a particularly subtle passage (and this is an art of great refinements) the shouts of Ole.' arise to express appreciation of his art, to agree
24 with the sentiments expressed, and to encourage him on to even greater eloquence. Very often the "Anthology" side containing the cantes con baile (dance songs) sounds like a revivalists' congregation saying "Amen!" to the preacher. Flamenco, while traditional in theme and choreography, allows a maximum of individual expression, and a democratic rivalry such as is typical of a jam session for, like the blues and jazz, it is an art of improvisation, and like them it can be quite graphic. Even one who doesn't understand the lyrics will note the uncanny ability of the singers presented here to produce pictorial effects with their voices. Great space, echoes, rolling slopes, the charging of bulls, and the prancing and galloping of horses flow in this sound much as animal cries, train whistles, and the loneliness of night sound through the blues. The nasal, harsh, anguished tones heard on these sides are not the results of ineptitude or "primitivism" like the "dirty tone" of the jazz instrumentalist, they are the result of an esthetic which rejects the beautiful sound sought by classical Western music. Not that flamenco is simply a music of despair this is true mainly of the seguidillas, the soleares, and the saetas (arrows of song) which are sung when the holy images are paraded during Holy Week, and which Rafael Romero sings with a pitch of religious fervor that reminds one of the great Pastora Pavon (La Nina de los Peines). But along with these darker songs the "Anthology" offers all the contrasts, the gay alegrias, bulerias, sevillanas, the passionate peteneras, lullabies (nana), prison songs, mountain songs, and laments. Love, loneliness, disappointment, pride-all these are themes for Cante Flamenco. Perhaps what attracts us most to flamenco, as it does to the blues, is the note of unillusioned affirmation of humanity which it embodies. The gypsies, like the slaves, are an outcast though undefeated people who have never lost their awareness of the physical source of man's most spiritual moments even their Christ is a man of flesh and bone who suffered and bled before his apotheosis. In its more worldly phases flamenco voice resembles the blues VOIce,
Flamenco 25 which mocks the despair stated explicitly in the lyric, and it expresses the great human joke directed against the universe, that joke which is the secret of all folklore and myth: that though we be dismembered daily we shall always rise up again. Americans have long found in Spanish culture a clarifying perspective on their own. Now in this anthology of Spanish folklore we have a most inviting challenge to listen more attentively to the deeper voice of our own.