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Diary Notes from 

The Marcus Bruce Christian Archives

University of New Orleans

 

 

 Books by Marcus Bruce Christian

Song of the Black Valiants: Marching Tempo / High Ground: A Collection of Poems  / Negro soldiers in the Battle of New Orleans

I am New Orleans: A Poem / Negro Iron Workers of Louisiana: 1718-1900 /  The Liberty Monument

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DN18

Frank Yerby & Origins of Foxes of Harrow

September 1, 1948

I have been upset all day. I have made investigations and inquiries, and now, after all, I am more confused than ever. I do not know what to think or whom to blame. . . . I was searching through the numerous plans and projects in the boxes in the kitchen when I came upon one folder of unfinished manuscripts that my wife [Ruth] had arranged in an envelope when she returned from Chicago in 1945. 

Running through them, they begin to bring back things I had almost forgotten about, and then I picked up two pages entitled, "An Antebellum Legend." It was nothing unusual about the paper as I read it through. The name Harrow arrested me for only a moment, and knowing the rest of the story which was a part imagination and a part of my life, I looked at it, wondered when I had written it, why had I written it and put it aside.

Then something did not register in the whole thing and I picked up the paper again. I remember that I had typed it, all right, but then dates began to assert themselves. Why it had been done? Probably backtracking on Yerby. I thought, because Miss Stripling and others had twitted me about the fact that Yerby was "stealing my thunder." I was probably trying to satisfy myself that I could do what he had donecapture the atmosphere that he had gotten into his  prologue in which he had set the tempo of the whole story of the Foxes of Harrow.

I was thinking that I had probably come in after being twitted and wrote this to satisfy myself that I, too could catch the eerie, dank dark atmosphere that was so much a part of Lafcadio Hearn, The Rubaiyat, Poe's "Fall of the House of Usher, and the famous Abolitionist Orator's "And this age came to tell our own that though hand joined in hand, the wicked shall not prosper."

It was a type of thing which showed the frailty of the things of our world when cast against the backdrop of the immutability of time. But in my mind things were registering confusedly, so when I picked it up this time I read it to the end. Near the end the word "Stephen Harrow" caught my attention and held it. Wasn't that the given name of Yerby's hero? Or was it? I couldn't remember. . . .

So dazedly, I still revert to the question: If I wrote the story or sketch after 1946, how could I do it with a typewriter which I had given away in  about 1944? Furthermore,  I know all of the material with which I have dealt. I had ofttimes wondered why Yerby used such a name as Harrowwhere did he get it from in Louisiana? I do not recall ever having seen it.

But in reading the sketch I readily recall that I placed the word "HARROW" there because of a little trick of covering up I had employed while on the WPA Writers' program. Move the person's real name, say six letters down the alphabet, using this only in regard to the initial letter, and you would thus disguise it. This name was Barrow. Six letters down and the name was changed to Harrow.

One of the Barrow girls, Hallett, played with my older brother, I am told. they lived on a fine estate about a quarter of a mile from the home-site that I still hold in the name of my father. The Mary-Jane of the sketch was probably a close relation of my grandparents, because I believe that my father told me that we were third cousins of the presentor rather the present generation. 

My father told me the story of this proud slave-woman who was very beautiful, and who spurned the advances of the overseer of the plantation to which she belonged. This plantation was probablyno, was the Barrow plantation which then comprised the entire area of the village in which our home-site is located. I remember the slave graveyard, and once I went through the slave graveyard with a small group of playmatesboys roving through the fields when the cane was cut.

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Chronicles: Frank Yerby and Marcus Christian (Carolyn Kolb)

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Then he went off to fight the great windmill of his life: how he had been unfairly taken advantage of by wealthy Creole author Frank Yerby, whom he felt had stolen the plot for The Foxes of Harrow from him. He also intimated that others had used his material without crediting him. The legend had developed that Christian became reclusive to prevent further thefts of material or stories. But in the next breath he told me he had been invited “a few years ago” to lecture on black history at Tulane and was interviewed “for hours” with the tape recorder spinning."Marcus B. Christian: A Reminiscence and Appreciation" By Tom Dent

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Frank Garvin Yerby (1916 - 1991) was born in Augusta, Georgia, the product of an interracial marriage. His parents were Wilhelmina and Rufus Yerby.  His father was African American and his mother was of European origin.  Yerby grew up in Augusta and attended two local institutions.  He graduated from Haines Institute in 1933. Four years later he earned a second degree from Paine College.  The following year Yerby entered Fisk University in Nashville where he earned a masters degree.  Yerby began studies toward a doctorate in education from the University of Chicago but dropped out before obtaining a degree.

Frank Yerby taught briefly at Florida A&M College and later at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  He later migrated north, to Dearborn, Michigan where he worked as a technician at the Ford Motor Company and then to Jamaica, New York, where he worked in the aviation industry.

Eventually Yerby gained success as an author. His story “Health Card” won the 1944 O. Henry Memorial Award for best first published short story of the year.  Two years later his first novel, The Foxes of Harrow, received critical acclaim. Yerby would write more than thirty novels over his career.  His best known novel, The Dahomean, appeared in 1971. His publications sold more than fifty-five million hardback and paperback books worldwide, making him one of the most commercially successful writers of the 20th Century.  Yerby’s novels often focused on strong male heroes but, unusual for the period, often included characters of various ethnic backgrounds.  His complex story lines, known for their acute sense of history, were also usually enmeshed in romantic intrigue and violence which seemed to enhance their popularity.BlackPast

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Selected Letters  Selected Diary Notes

Memories of Marcus B. Christian (CainsChristian's BioBibliographical Record    Introduction to I AM NEW ORLEANS 

A Theory of a Black Aesthetic   Magpies, Goddesses, & Black Male Identity

Activist Works on Next Level of Change   Intro to I Am New Orleans   Letter from Dillard University

A Labor of Genuine Love  Letter of Gift of Photos   Letters from LSU and Skip Gates

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The Foxes of Harrow

By Frank Yerby

The story begins with the adventures of the illegitimate Irish gambler, Stephen Fox. He's worked his way around Europe and America and has now settled near New Orleans. He schemes and gambles until he establishes himself as a wealthy planter, building the great hall of Harrow. But money doesn't buy happiness.

He marries local beauty Odalie, but she turns out to be frigid in bed. After years of going without he finally takes on a quadroon mistress, Desiree, whose voice is like a soft, golden gong. Did I mention her voice is like a soft, golden gong? Mr. Yerby mentions it several times. Eventually Odalie learns about Desiree and this causes even more conflict in the marriage. Both women turn up the heat in the competition over this man until there's an eventual tragic end.

The next part of the book takes up with Stephen's son, Etienne. With Etienne's cruelty to animals and his disregard for other people's feelings, he has the classic makings of a serial killer if given half a chance. He's a totally despicable person who may get what he deserves when he marries the half-wild Ceclie. Then at last the Civil War breaks out just when the book looked like it was losing steam. Yet we kind of breeze through the war, just touching upon high points, and before you know it, it's over.

Western: A Saga of the Great Plains (Yerby)

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Negro Iron Workers of Louisiana: 1718-1900

By Marcus Bruce Christian

 

Study of the blacksmith tradition and New Orleans famous lace balconies and fences.

Acclaimed during his life as the unofficial poet laureate of the New Orleans African-American community, Marcus Christian recorded a distinguished career as historian, journalist, and literary scholar. He was a contributor to Pelican's Gumbo Ya Ya, and also wrote many articles that appeared in numerous newspapers, journals, and general-interest publications.

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Audio: My Story, My Song (Featuring blues guitarist Walter Wolfman Washington)

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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update 17 April 2010

 

 

 

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