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Black Boy

Black Boy


by Richard Wright

Black Boy Chapter 19 Summary

  • Strap on your seat belts, boys and girls, because this is one long and crazy chapter. Don’t worry though; the ride is almost over.
  • After reading more about Communism, Richard thinks he is ready to start his bibliography project. He doesn’t know many black Communists, and they don’t seem particularly interested in getting to know him, but Richard doesn't take it to heart. They’re just playing hard to get. Totally.
  • Richard takes on more and more duties in the club (remember, this guy has a full-time job) and he starts going to the Communist unit meetings.
  • There, he gets laughed out of the room because somehow, without even finishing middle school, Richard manages to sound like a brainiac. Even though he has literally been starving for most of his life, these dudes brand him as a rich, stuck-up, intellectual brat.
  • Also, apparently you can add the Communists to the long list of people who tell Richard to stop reading stuff.
  • Richard interviews a guy named Ross for his project and he is fired up. This is his life’s work, and it is awesome.
  • Well, not everyone thinks so. Like the Communist party, which is pretty suspicious of Richard's project. One day a guy comes and tells him that intellectuals don’t mix well with Communists. Richard says that he’s not an intellectual, and the guy ignores him. He says that he has to prove his loyalty to Communism by getting beat up by police.
  • At this point, Richard is starting to think that these people are crazy. Again, we ask: what was your first clue?
  • But then he starts reading Stalin and his mind is blown. He is amazed that the Soviet Union has tried to unify oppressed peoples and give dialects their own writing systems. Richard is a little like those monkeys from 2001: A Space Odyssey when they see that monolith. Simply. Amazing.
  • One morning a guy called Ed Green accuses Richard of being an intellectual spy, which of course is wrong and makes Richard pretty upset.
  • Richard really doesn’t get what all the fuss is about. He begins to feel hurt and isolated again, and it’s worse now because he’s just started to feel like part of something for the first time in his life. Even Ross is scared of him now.
  • Okay, so the biographies are a bust. Richard decides to use the notes from Ross and his friends to write some short stories instead.
  • He gets even more material when he starts working at the South Side Boy’s club and taking notes on the wild black boys who come there every day. Too bad that his non-paying job, being the token black kid in the Communist party, gets in the way.
  • Richard is obviously getting tired of this stuff, especially because the John Reed Club votes to abolish his magazine, The Left Front.
  • And then the club itself decides to disband. Tons of young writers are left hanging. No more club for you, young writer.
  • In an aside, Richard notes that artists and politicians often end up working together to achieve the same goals. This seems… a little tangential.
  • And finally it’s time for another John Reed Club conference. Richard is not too excited to go, but he does. At least it’s in New York, right?
  • Richard arrives in New York and everything is already off to a bad start, because it seems that the white Communists have forgotten that racism exists and failed to find any rooms for the black Chicagoan Communists to stay in. Richard is disgusted and even walks through Harlem, otherwise known as the center of black New York, and can't find a place until he gets to the NYMCA ("n" for "Negro").
  • All this just for another meeting to assure that the John Reed Clubs will be dissolved. Richard is totally over it, and so are we.
  • But his buddies are not done with him yet. Not by a long shot.
  • People start accusing him of being a spy, of starting rival factions, and basically of being exactly the opposite kind of person that he is.
  • Richard stays up at night thinking about what would happen to him if he was in the Soviet Union. Dude, this is way too intense for a club.
  • Richard resolves to leave the party, which is perhaps the best idea he has ever had.
  • Shortly later Richard gets sick, and after that he is scheduled to meet with Buddy Nealson, the guy who has been calling him names.
  • The dude is a total sleaze ball. He tries to get Richard to drink but, wisely, Richard refuses. If this were ancient Rome, there would totally be arsenic in his cup.
  • Nealson wants Richard to organize against high prices in the South Side of Chicago. Richard wants to write books. Nealson only wins because the Communist Party has handed down an ultimatum, and Richard is just too tired to fight it.
  • He works on the project for a while but is about to give up, when Nealson randomly turns up again and tells him that he wants Richard to go to Switzerland.
  • Switzerland sounds nice, Richard says, but no thanks. I have a novel to write.
  • The next meeting, Richard resigns from the party.
  • Not so fast. If it were that simple the book would probably end here, but, if you’re reading along with us, you already know that it doesn’t.
  • Now things start getting bad. The whole party turns against Richard and he can't even talk to another Communist anymore without starting a fight.
  • Meanwhile, Richard gets another new job. He’s now working as the publicity agent for a black theater. Sounds perfect.
  • Richard doesn’t think so. Even though the actors are all black, they only do plays from the Middle Ages recast in the South, while Richard thinks that they should be putting on plays that, you know, speak more directly to black experience.
  • After managing to get a hip new director, Richard convinces the actors to try some new plays, ones that will give them a little more dignity.
  • Turns out, the actors are perfectly happy making fools of themselves on stage, and they manage to get both Richard and the director kicked out. Richard is assigned to yet another theater, and this time he resolves to keep his big mouth shut.
  • Some time later, Communists—who seem to be following Richard around like some kind of freaky cult, seriously—tell him that Ross, the guy Richard had been interviewing for the biographies, is going to have a trial the next morning. Richard is skeptical, but he decides to go.
  • When the trial begins, no one is actually talking about Ross. They talk about fascism, about the Soviet Union, about the "global struggle" of the oppressed.
  • The arguments narrow from a worldwide scale on down to the scale of the USA, then to Chicago, then to black people in Chicago, and finally, several hours later, to the charges against Ross.
  • This is awesome rhetoric, connecting individual struggles to worldwide ones, and Richard is bummed. Communism could be such a great tool for unity, but the actual Communists are just so freaking crazy.
  • In fact, the rhetoric is so effective that Ross ends up convinced that he’s sinned against Mother Russia. Blubbering like a baby, he admits his guilt. It is a real come-to-Jesus (or Mother Russia) moment.
  • Richard thinks the whole affair is both insane (the horror) and beautiful (the glory), and he leaves.

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