My rating: 4 of 5 stars
“As for me, I do not pretend to read God’s mind. If He has a plan for the universe worked out to the smallest detail, it would be a folly of me to presume to revise it. That, to me, seems the highest form of sacrilege. So I do not pray. I accept the means at my disposal for working out my destiny. It seems to me that I have been given a mind and will-power for that very purpose. I do not expect God to single me out and grant me advantages over my fellow men. Prayer is for those who need it. Prayer seems to me a cry of weakness, and an attempt to avoid, by trickery, the rules of the game as laid down. I do not choose to admit weakness. I accept the challenge of responsibility. Life, as it is, does not frighten me, since I have made my peace with the universe as I find it, and bow to its laws.” ~ Zora Neale Hurston
This text takes an awful great deal of consideration. I had a moment of pause as I was choosing which star rating to afford it. I am generous in my system. I have rarely ever chosen and read a “bad” book though there is one current read which will be be given no leniency for overwhelming grammatical error and dialogue suited only for caricature, but this book needs pause and reflection.
Even as I read back over some of my favorite passages, new insights arrive to me while studying the words of such brilliant humanist social critiques as Zora Neale Hurston’s “On Religion” from her biography Dust Tracks on a Road or Langston Hughes’ “Salvation” from The Big Sea. They display remarkable journeys not simply from the religious to irreligious, but a journey from seeking to enfold oneself in the shroud of faith to a full and emboldened to desire to know and engage with a wider sphere of humanity. Their own writing speaks to this artistic instinct. I think the artist is better equipped than most other professional (or personal) endeavors to recognize the breadth and depth of the human experience and the need to transcend any aspect of one’s own personal inflexibility if you wish to engage this broader audience.
They are not the only stars here. One in particular whom has become my personal icon is Hubert Henry Harrison, a most remarkable thinker, theorist, lecturer and educator during the period of the Harlem Renaissance whom greatly influenced the intellectual arc of the Messenger Group as initiated by A. Philip Randolph and Chandler Owen. Incidentally, he also influenced Garvey which is odd since the two groups later went on to become rivals. His legacy is a most unfortunate victim of American nativism and the numerous “Communist/Red Scare” periods into which American has fallen. Harrison was a Socialist and while it seems that most other nations can accept even begrudgingly that there are individuals who don’t ascribe to the greatness of capitalism in the modern world, we still find need and desire to suppress these ideas lest they become a populist uproar for a new way of working.
Even when I found myself disliking an essay, as was the case with “Richard Wright: Beyond Naturalism?” by Michael Fabre which I found far to technical for its own good, I could not deny that I had at least learned something novel about the subject in question particularly that Richard Wright was/is an incredibly complex figure and it is no wonder that Baldwin needed an entire book of essays to exorcise those demons of a “Native Son”. The construct of race in our culture has created a confusing number of formalities and ways of dancing around discussions of race. Wright was a son of this era and Baldwin was determined not die in that same box.
In fact in that first section of essays, I must not forget to note the philosophical arc which runs stray through Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois and Hubert Henry Harrison. All of those men understood that under natural and equal human conditions there would be no need of separate action on the part of Black people, but until their White contemporaries could prove that there was not created a distinct set of disadvantages to being Black, no one was in a position to offer criticism of their methods. An exciting and enlightening read through and through.