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   One of the most pathetic cases in the world is a Negro trying to write poetry in the South

I am under my igloo in bed, typing away


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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 By Rudolph Lewis


Few have considered fully the life and work of Marcus Bruce Christian. It is this writer's hope that this essay will initiate a more detailed exploration of the particulars of Christian's life. Nevertheless, it is certain, as both scholar and poet, Christian bequeathed a great legacy to the people of New Orleans and Louisiana. He left us over 2,000 poems and thousands of pages of historical scholarship on Negroes in Louisiana.

From Federal Writers Project records, correspondence, and diary notes, it is possible to piece together a sense of Christian's public and personal life. Though his life is an equatorial forest, deep, rich, and mysterious, what stands out remarkably is Christian's highly productive life; and though he was desirous of success and security, Christian courted heroism and tragedy.

Born March 8, 1900, in an educated family, Christian was raised in Mechanicsville, a rural Louisiana town, now part of Houma. During Reconstruction, his grandfather Ebel Christian directed the Lafourche public schools, according to one writer (Hessler, 1987). Marcus attended the primary school in which his father Emmanuel Banks Christian was a village school master for thirty years. Christian told Betsy Peterson: "I was very fortunate to have the father I had."  

His father Emmanuel read poetry to his children: "My little twin sister and I, we'd get up there on his lap and he'd put one of us on each knee" (Petersen, 1970). We know very few details of Marcus' mother Rebecca Harris. In his recall of her she tends to be idealized.

A literate carpenter and mason, Emmanuel Christian also worked in the cane-grinding mills of Lafourche. In his "Dark Record," an unfinished autobiography, Christian describes his father's involvement in the Knights of Labor. This union of white and Negro sugarcane workers organized against elite planters, who brought in the military, strikebreakers, and terrorists. The union men conspired to make the odds even by bringing in guns and ammunition by train. The conspiracy discovered, the authorities waited for someone to claim the freight:

Like a cat at a mouse hole the whites waited, planning.     the ringleaders became uneasy; then came the   nightriders, and Negroes whom whites believed were    implicated in the plot were slain and left on the       streets in the dead of night. . . . My father escaped     wearing one of his stepsister's dresses. Braver men   have done as much.

Though fortunate to have well-placed and enterprising parents, Christian as a child suffered one family tragedy after another. As a child of three Marcus lost his mother. Rebecca; at seven, his twin sister; and at thirteen his father. As an orphan he left school to earn money while he and his sisters and brothers lived with family and friends of family.

In 1919, Marcus and his siblings moved to New Orleans. In a diary note, Christian describes in idealistic terms his intent in coming to New Orleans. He imagines himself as a soldier facing a great social war: "He bade farewell to his friends and went away to place his young body upon the rack as a sacrifice in a so-called War for Democracy, that he went among his friends collecting ideas and data in the cause of American poetry. From house to house he went, like a man seeking truth in a great city."

Christian echoes in this passage Woodrow Wilson's slogan, used to justify America's entry into World War I. Such an ideology, Christian felt, must be applied to the American scene. When he was fifteen President Wilson gave his stamp of approval to D.W. Griffith's Birth of Nation, which led to a revival of the Ku Klux Klan. Wrong-headed views about the Negro, for Christian, was a problem, not only regional but national.

In New Orleans, Christian worked as a chauffeur during the day and attended school at night. By 1922, Christian had pulled together a manuscript entitled "Ethiopia Triumphant and Other Poems." This attempt to self-publish failed. The poor quality of the printing angered Christian and caused him to give up the project. Between 1922 and 1942, however, Christian wrote numerous poems, some of which were published in Opportunity and Crisis, magazines that boosted the so-called Negro Renaissance, centered in Harlem, the capital by the 1920s of the Negro world.

In 1926 with his savings Christian started a small dry cleaning business, the Bluebird Cleaners. With a measure of security, Christian by 1935 was a fairly established poet and folklorist in the New Orleans scene. In a letter (dated 27 March 1937) to George S. Schuyler, author of Black No More and book reviewer for The Pittsburgh Courier, Christian  reacted cordially to Schuyler's claim that little had been done since DuBois and The Crisis, Johnson and Opportunity Magazine, Randolph and The Messenger.

By referring to the files of the Louisiana Weekly, of March 26, 1932, you will find that there was a meeting of persons interested in poetry, at 2500 Palmyra St. Shortly following this meeting, I was among those who, went to Mr. C.C. Dejoie, the president, and asked that space be allowed us in his columns. From that time       onward, there has been a Poet's Corner in the paper, and from this beginning, some of us have made the better newspapers and magazines of our race--as well as     a few publications among the whites.

Christian sent Schuyler a few of his poems and informed him of his relationship with Elmer Anderson Carter, editor of Opportunity and of his acquaintance with Langston Hughes. He described his connections with Dillard and the Federal Writers Project and his knowledge of Negro literature in Louisiana and an 1845 group that called itself Les Cenelles. 

In effect, Christian corrected Schuyler's misconception that Negro men and women in New Orleans were just now encouraging poetry and art among their race. The Negroes of Louisiana had a literary history worthy of attention by those who still spoke of the Negro Renaissance. Far away from Harlem, Black New Orleanians, like himself, had been about the race's business. He concluded there should be a "greater cohesiveness between sectional groups." 

We also see Christian lobbying for Saxon. In a letter (28 June 1937), George Schuyler tells Christian he would be pleased to review  Saxon's Children of Strangers (1937).

Christian's sensibility was developed from a number of influences. "My first poetry was ordinary American poetry that you get in books. Longfellow, Stevenson, Whittier. But we didn't learn Whittier's abolitionist poetry. He was the official poet of the abolitionists, but they didn't tell you that in school" (Peterson, 1970).

Christian also admired the blues and jazz experiments of Hughes. In a letter (dated 15 February 1932), Hughes told Christian he liked his blues poems best. But Hughes added a caution on his use of Negro dialect:

The only criticism I would have on these dialect poems is that your dialect is too complicated for the average   person to read, which would hinder their having a wide    appreciation. I think they would be just as effective       if you would limit your dialect to a few words like   spelling 'the' in the conventional 'de' way and not attempting to dialectize every word.

Hughes also "liked best" Christian's "lovely little lyric called SOUVENIR," a poem published by The Crisis.

Much of Christian's poetry, however, is unlike that of Hughes or Sterling Brown. It is not free verse, not modern. Christian was a master of rhyme and meter, of the English lyric. His poetry sang the romance of the race, of man's struggle in the most intimate of relationships. The mode or standards acceptable can be seen in Christian's response to Elmer Anderson Carter, Opportunity editor, concern about a few of the poems sent him. Christian puts up a weak defense:

Concerning them, I should like to state . . . that my irregular meter and varied rhyme schemes were purposely done in most instances.

Certain so-called poetic authorities assert that such things are permissible in strictly modern poetry.    However, your kind letter has caused me to realize that       perhaps I have placed a wider interpretation than was       intended. Viewed in this light, your suggestions were indeed necessary.

One of the most pathetic cases in the world is a Negro trying to write poetry in the South. Very often the environment is not sympathetic to indigenous poetry.

This final sentiment rephrases the sentiments of Dunbar's "The Poet." The remark rises, however, out of his cordiality to Anderson and a desire to be published.

In his essay "Marcus Christian: A Reminiscence and an Appreciation," Tom Dent brings an important critical view to a reading of Christian's poetry. Dent argues New Orleans young writers found Christian's "overbearing sense of form with meaning and substance" out of date. "As a poet," Dent points out, "Christian had a tendency to be a little too tied to nineteenth-century English form, to the detriment of his Afro-American sensibility" (26).

What Dent reports seems, however, a difference in the sensibility of generations. Neither speak the whole story of black life in America. Each voice of each age possesses a relevance and importance, if we desire to dispel ignorance and prejudice. The sixties and seventies was an age of hard-line positions. The thirties and forties possessed its own character and appeal, an emphasis on grace, knowledge, and firmness of resolve. The sensibility of militant youth, however, is not a good measure of poetic standards. Though as Dent reminds us, "almost all of his poetry . . . remained unpublished . . . though much of it is fine and should eventually be published" (26).

Neither Christian's young critics nor the general public has reviewed the body of Christian's work. Nor do I believe his critics weighed what was required to publish in The Crisis and other outlets for Negro writers with Negro themes. Dent names, however, poems he felt were excellent. I included two of them in this volume:: "My Heart Is With the Hunted" and "Epitaph." Dent's prefers  Christian when he is "impassioned or obviously moved" (26).

Christian's passion "mute," according to Dent, his adherence to form. Christian's isolation, Dent argues, is the cause of Christian holding onto antiquated forms of poetic expression. "The desire to give expression, to give voice through poetry to a people who have not been heard in written literature was, however, a lonely undertaking, all the more difficult because Christian was working in isolation and with hardly any readership." Christian did not have the give and take needed, Dent seems to argue, needed by a writer to develop contemporary style and expression.

There's little evidence that Christian's isolation caused him to choose a particular form or voice for his poetic expression. He wrote on the whole in ways that he found comfort. Dent and others limit the expanse of "Afro-American sensibility." There are masses of Negroes who still recite in church and other formal occasions Tennyson's "Crossing the Bar" and Longfellow's "The Rainy Day." And that's not to mention Handel and Mozart. Even with these failings, Christian "stands as a beacon light from the earliest, hardest days," Dent concluded. For Christian told "the black American's story for himself in a way he could understand it, reflecting the truth of his journey" (Dent, 1984).

  As Depression deepened, Christian's Bluebird Cleaners could not sustain his basic needs. Proud and independent, he was reluctant to apply for relief. He found a way out. He appealed to Lyle Saxon, the director of the Louisiana Federal Writers Project (LA-FWP), which began fall 1935. Saxon, a Louisiana folklorist, wrote popular histories, including Father Mississippi (1927), Fabulous New Orleans (1928), Old Louisiana (1929), LaFitte the Pirate (1930). Saxon believed plantation life was "almost paradisial" (Clayton, 1978).

Christian courted and impressed Saxon with his capacity and skills as a writer and poet. They exchanged letters. In one (15 February 1936), Christian wrote: "Dear Mr. Saxon: In reply to finished work I ought to have told you yesterday that I have what I consider an entire book, entitled 'The Clothes Doctor and Other Poems'. I finished it two years ago and put it aside for revision and a few changes. The main poem is about twenty or more pages in length. Will send you flashes of it next week."

Saxon genuinely interested himself in Christian. As early as 16 December 1935, Saxon mentioned Christian in a letter responding to a civil rights complaint that Negroes intellectuals were not being hired in the project. However, as a result of the complaint, an all-black program was set up in spring 1936 at Dillard. But even before Christian was hired, Saxon appealed to Houghton Mifflin Publishing Co. on behalf of Christian. He wrote to Paul Brooks (18 February 1936):

I tried in every way to arrange to have him work on the Federal Writers' projects in Louisiana, but -- it is impossible for me to give him the employment that he needs so much. I do not know whether Houghton Mifflin    is interested in Literary Fellowships for poets, but I do believe that of all the writers that I have since I have taken this job, Marcus Christian is the one most likely to prove successful.

Saxon sent Brooks some of Christian's writings. Nothing came of Saxon's query to Brooks. But that Saxon put his name and reputation on the line seems significant. Saxon recommended Christian to Houghton Mifflin because they published such writers as Oliver La Farge, E.P. O'Donnell, and Frans Blom.

All three writers wrote books on ethnic situations. In Laughing Boy (1929), awarded the 1930 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, La Farge concerned himself with the cultures of Navajo and Hopi. In his Green Margins (1936), E.P. O'Donnell focused on the Cajun atmosphere in Mississippi Delta country south of New Orleans. In Conquest of Yucatan (1936), Frans Blom put forth findings gained through exploration of Maya culture.

After receipt of further funds from Washington and the agreement of Dillard to host the project, Saxon reported he had employed Marcus Christian. The Dillard Project editors, Saxon boasted "have prepared already more than 30,000 words under the volunteer supervision of Professor L.D. Reddick."  With Reddick's resignation, Christian became supervisor. The Dillard Project ended December 1942.

In his "The Federal Writers' Project for Blacks in Louisiana" (1978), Ronnie Clayton focuses on the extreme differences between the white and black writers' project in Louisiana.

A comparison between the white interpretation of slavery as appeared in Gumbo Ya-Ya, and the black    interpretation as presented in "The History of the    Negro in Louisiana" indicates how the two groups of writers differed in their interpretations of the slave   experience.

Clayton concluded that the white writers, including Saxon, believed antebellum slavery was not "heinous," that race relations were "excellent," and that uprisings "were not initiated by discontented slaves but by northern abolitionists." 

On the other hand, the Dillard writers "maintained that Negroes did make cultural contributions to the state, that slavery was not an acceptable system of labor, that slaves longed for their freedom, and that blacks were not always duped by whites." Clayton continues: "While Gumbo Ya-Ya tended to portray blacks in a stereotype role of buffoons, the Dillard writers intended to describe whites in a jocular fashion. In their history blacks outwitted whites" (Clayton, 1978).

Even with world views at variance, Saxon continued his support of Christian. Much of it seemed to be justified on the merits of Christian skills and his literary productions. There were six other editors: James LaFourche, Clarence Laws, Octave Lilly, Homer McEwen, Eugene Willman, and Alice Smith. An inventory of Dillard work demonstrated Christian consistently produced manuscript pages of work greater than that of his fellow editors.

Edward Dreyer, Saxon's FWP assistant, reports to Henry Alsberg in Washington (6 January 1938) that Christian had completed three manuscripts of 800 pages, over a third of the pages from the seven editors. "Genealogy of the Negro in Louisiana and notes" (422 pages); "Art Forms By Free Colored Artists of Louisiana and notes" (316 pages); "The Beginning of the Free Colored Class (incomplete)" (100 pages) were listed. Further, Sterling Brown called on Christian to assist him with New Orleans materials for his planned book "The Negro as an American." Brown was a Harvard graduate, Howard English professor, author of a book of poems Southern Road (1932), and editor of the FWP's Negro Affairs section.

Brown was familiar with Christian and his knowledge of New Orleans and Louisiana history. "I heard last fall from Mr. Saxon that you were on the Project, and of course I knew of your work in Opportunity." 

Brown asked Christian to send manuscript material: Tribal origins, slaves in Louisiana; Longshoremen and typical work; Convent Sisters; Colored actresses--Cecilly, New Orleans Theatre, 1837; Folk songs, street cries; Mardi Gras picture; Cases of injustice from earliest time to present; Catholic schools (excluding Xavier); Battle of New Orleans; Confederate Regiment of Creoles; Bras Coupe (character in Cable's Grandissimes, supposedly a historical figure); and Marie Leveau (WPA letter, 2 October 1937). In a WPA letter two months later (11 December 1937), Brown wrote: I wish to thank you for your hearty cooperation and promptness and for the very good material which you have sent in."

When the Louisiana FWP ended in 1942, Saxon, contrary to the disposition of other Louisiana FWP records, decided that the Dillard FWP records should be left at Dillard (letter to Albert Dent, Dillard president, 31 December 1942). "I have discussed with Marcus B. Christian the availability of leaving the Negro material where it is at present, and the possibility of work being continued on the book The Negro in Louisiana, until it is completed."

Saxon explained his interest: "I would also like to be able to help in getting it to the attention of a publisher, as well as being allowed to write the foreword in which I would like to give you and Christian the proper credit in the writing and publishing of the work."

Unlike such books as The Negro In Virginia and The Negro in Illinois, "The Negro in Louisiana" still remains unpublished, neither the Reddick nor the Christian version (A Black History of Louisiana). Some may suggest Christian failed to carry out his responsibility. But there were other factors. Foremost, Saxon died in 1946. Christian's patron could no longer promote or support him.

Christian had fears as early as fall 943 of Saxon's physical and mental health. In a diary note (10 November 1943), Christian records a phone conversation with Saxon saying, "like I'm feeling I'm not sure now if I'll be living very long." In a 10 December 1943 diary note, Christian wrote: "Maybe it is that Saxon is as sick as he thinks. After all, he has been hitting the bottle rather heavily within the last few years. No man can stand that slow poison for long, I thought to myself."

Dillard considered the records and the manuscript were fully those of the university. In a letter President Dent made his position clear: "As per our agreement with the WPA, this material is now the property of the University and is to be placed in the custody of the University library for permanent keeping" (12 January 1943). Dent gave Christian five months to complete the manuscript and catalog the material. Benjamin Quarles, a Dillard history professor and later a nationally known historian, gained the unenviable task of supervising work he had no part in.

In a diary note (4 June 1944), Christian expressed his view of the Dillard situation. He visited Saxon to discuss finding a publisher for The Negro in Louisiana. "Then I told him about my slight worry that somebody might try to have some one else supersede me--not definite, but something I'd like to have settled." Christian made full clarification of Saxon's view:

He said that after all, he left the manuscript fully into my hands that he has nothing to do with it, and      nobody else has anything. I told him that I was not   sure that that was understood elsewhere, and that I did not want to go too deeply into it then, but that was   one of the things I wanted clarified when I finished it. That I was not going to make any demands for   reassurances now, but that I would before I submit it       out there.

He complained to Saxon that Dent was "uncooperative."

With the FWP dead, Saxon ill and near dying, Christian was anxious to find a way to secure his future. He had spent eight years of his life researching, collecting, and writing histories of blacks in New Orleans and Louisiana. He felt  danger of having the rug pulled from under his feet. With support from Saxon and Arna Bontemps, Christian received on 21 April 1943 a $1,600 fellowship from the Rosenwald Fund. The Fund failed, however, to renew the fellowship for 1944.

From 1944 to 1950, Christian continued his association with Dillard as assistant librarian. In her Christian essay, Marilyn Hessler suggested that Christian left Dillard after a member of Dillard's library staff raised objections to his presence on staff without degree. After Dillard, Christian became a "recluse"; the poet "sank into abysmal poverty and everyone lost sight of him," according to Hessler.

"Living in virtual poverty, Christian," Dent wrote, "tried to maintain his vast and valuable collection of historical documents and rare books, his long-hoped-for volume on black Louisiana history still incomplete." In Hurricane Betsy, Dent continued, Christian suffered the indignity of arrest as a looter in his efforts to wade to his house to save his collection from the floodwaters of the Lower Ninth Ward (Dent, 1984).

The Dillard experience provided Christian about $80 a month and the opportunity of a Rosenwald Fund fellowship. But there were other benefits. Saxon used Christian "as a sort of clearinghouse for all of his Negro contacts." Thus, Christian was "brought into contact with Negroes of national caliber. Novelists, writers, poets, artists who came into the orbit of this kindly man could be named by the dozens." These national figures included Roscoe Lewis, Arna Bontemps, Richard Wright, J. Mason Brewer, Jacob Lawrence, Margaret Walker, Owen Dodson (diary note, undated).

According to Christian, Saxon based his Joe Gilmore and His Friends on Sterling Brown, "swinging his Phi Betta Kappa 'jive key' from the end of a pocket chain" with "his 'white man's English' and collegiate personality."  Saxon believed "the more white people of good will met worthy Negroes, just so much would a small stone of prejudice be cast aside from the road of life" (diary note, undated).

In his most private moments, Christian wondered how far he and Saxon had come in their seven-year relationship. On a 10 November 1943 phone conversation, Christian wrote the following in his diary: "I noticed, that he said, rather slowly and reflectively, and a little sadly, 'goodbye, boy'. I was just thinking. Roark Bradford wrote long ago--and it does seem ages ago, although it is only a year or two--that Mr. Saxon never called you boy."

In a another note (10 December 1943), Christian writes again the variance in Saxon's and his views of the world: "But here it is, I was thinking, he wants to see me, wants me to come up a stinking freight elevator. How could I go? Turn my head to the wall, and not watch the comments or the wisecracks of the white elevator tender." All such occasions must have gritted heavily on Christian integrity and sense of dignity. For a proud man, eating Jim Crow fills him with melancholy and bitterness.

I turn now to Christian's work in I Am New Orleans & Other Poems. I will attempt to clarify the arrangement and themes and provide a bit of context for this volume's fifty poems. The first group of poems considers the social role of the poet. Such poems as "Justification," "Antique Dealer," and "The Dreamer" views the poet as hero and defender of community standards. Christian's dreamer should be read side by side with Hughes' poem of the same title. 

In a diary note undated, Christian expressed his view that the poet was indifferent "to worldly matters, things mundane." The poet must be willing to make sacrifices: "His is the supreme indifference to things that be, even though they rack his body with pain, discomfiture, or hunger." The poems "In Harlem," "Canal Street At Noon," and "Metropolis" introduce the importance of place in Christian's poetry.

Among the Negro Renaissance poets, Christian stands out uniquely in how he deals with the dilemmas of love. In his passionate idealism, Christian yokes flesh and mind in a way that his poems have both physicality and abstraction. Among this group, "Brown Lorrelli," "To One Who is Silent," and  "Charmaine" are most lyrical and charming. The physicality that characterizes "Love at Auction," Bleeding Heart," and "Inconvenient Love" focuses on love's torment. "Bachelor Apartment" catalogs women involved in Christian's life. The following note (28 November 1940) clarifies Christian's struggle with his own sexuality: "One must have a woman--even those who lacerate the flesh of your soul. . . . One must go out to get food to eat and must go into tow to get the necessities." I included two blues poems in this group. Christian used familiar tropes. They are more humorous and bizarre than the surreal and poignant inventions of Robert Johnson. In the classical blues mode, however, they have a curious excellence.

The third group of poems include "Forbidden Fruit," "To Irene," and "The Masquerader." They consider the perverse effects Jim Crow has on the natural affections of men and women of different races. These love poems represent the fears the lover has of society's condemnations. There are letters and diary notes that flesh out Christian's concerns couched in his lyricism.

"In 1942, Christian married a Dillard freshman, and in March 1944 she left him," according to one report. "Theirs remained an on-again, off-again relationship until the 1950s when they would be divorced" (Hessler, 1987). Much more work needs to be done to get the facts clear about this critical aspect of Christian's life. Its complexity will reveal much more about how he technically approached the writing of his poems.

In a note (10 June 1946), which gave rise probably to the poems "Resolution" and "Bachelor's Apartment," Christian reports discarding his wife's things: "It is no use to keep anything to remind me what a fool I am. I am packing it up with her other things and sending it to her." He studied his marriage certificate: "I find that we were married on March 15, 1943, and that it is recorded in Book No. 58, folio 908. The number of the certificate is No. 2802."

The dates need honing during this significant period in the poet's life because of his affair with Irene Douglas, a New York sketch artist. "To Irene" is a never published poem Christian wrote for her. Irene's letter reveals more than it says on the surface: 

"Marcus--I wish you can come to N.Y. -- please try with all your might. Someday I intend to live in New Orleans but at present--I'm not allowed to travel" (19 January 1942). The letter continues as follows:

My mother gave me heck the other day. She said I had not changed. All my mind is on is travel and New    Orleans. I want her to like you Marcus. I told her you      were colored remember I wrote and told you of it. She said, Is he very light? I said no ma--dark--very dark.       She don't object. Yet she doesn't pat me on the back either. . . . I don't tell my mother how much you really mean to me. I just tell her you are an artist friend, a writer, with a very wonderful mind, whom I      respect! . . . Marcus I miss you.

From photos Christian appears light-skinned with tightly curled hair and rugged features. He was "a small man with a big voice and the presence of a great conductor," according to Peterson. Irene goes on to say, [I] "never found anyone--whose mind was so rich to me as yours." She assures him she hasn't "gone out with anyone." There has not been "even a good night kiss." Christian mentioned marriage in some context. She responded: "Marcus you know you just couldn't marry any woman. You want someone who really understands."

Christian's wife Ruth and Irene were both attractive women, I believe, but young and naive. A difference of ten to twenty years: Christian in his early forties; and they in the their early twenties. He a scholar and intellectual and they educated working girls. If both girls were colored, a marriage to either would be difficult for a man who lacked financial security. Christian was in a dilemma. And it was painful. His writing about it was, curiously, his salvation.

He chose Ruth and regretted it. For he felt that her happiness was beyond his means. He recounts a quarrel between him and Ruth:

It was very cold today. . . .

            I am under my igloo in bed, typing away. Ruth just    came in and made me mad as hell because of the envious   way in which she told of a woman who she had seen in the drugstore, who pulled out a big roll of money, her    husband had just got paid, and she purchased two     dollars and something of cosmetics.

I blew up, when she said that's the kind of     husband to have, and here I am being given a little by little at a time, or something like that. I raised so  much sand that she got on the defensive and went into the bathroom, locking the bedroom door and the bathroom door, and screaming at me something through the closed doors, I being in the bedroom in my igloo. Some life (10 December 1943).

Christian here is blind and unsympathetic of the needs of a young wife. He demands of his wife the sacrifices he places upon himself.

From photos Christian appears light-skinned with tightly curled hair and rugged features. He was "a small man with a big voice and the presence of a great conductor," according to Peterson. Irene goes on to say, [I] "never found anyone--whose mind was so rich to me as yours." She assures him she hasn't "gone out with anyone." There has not been "even a good night kiss." Christian mentioned marriage in some context. She responded: "Marcus you know you just couldn't marry any woman. You want someone who really understands."

Christian's wife Ruth and Irene were both attractive women, I believe, but young and naive. A difference of ten to twenty years: Christian in his early forties; and they in the their early twenties. He a scholar and intellectual and they educated working girls. If both girls were colored, a marriage to either would be difficult for a man who lacked financial security. Christian was in a dilemma. And it was painful. His writing about it was, curiously, his salvation.

He chose Ruth and regretted it. For he felt that her happiness was beyond his means. He recounts a quarrel between him and Ruth:


*   *   *   *   *

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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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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Marcus Bruce Christian

Selected Diary Notes / Selected Poems  / Selected Letters

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Profiles on Marcus Bruce Christian and the Federal Writers Project

Bryan, Violet Harrington. The Myth of New Orleans in Literature. Knoxville: University of Tennessee, 1993.

Clayton, Ronnie W. “The Federal Writers Project for Blacks in LouisianaLouisiana History 19(1978): 327-335.

Dent, Tom. “Marcus B. Christian: A Reminiscence and an Appreciation.” Black American Literature Forum, 1984, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp. 22-26.

Hessler, Marilyn S. “Marcus Christian: The Man and His CollectionLouisiana History 1 (1987):37-55.

Johnson, Jerah. “Marcus B. Christian and the WPA History of Black People in Louisiana Louisiana History 20.1 (1979): 113-115.

Larson, Susan. “Poems in the Key of LifeTimes-Picayune (Book Section), July 4, 1999.

Lewis, Rudolph. “IntroductionI Am New Orleans and Other Poems by Marcus Bruce Christian. Edited by Rudolph Lewis and Amin Sharif. New Orleans: Xavier Review Press, 1999. Reprinted in revised form in Dillard Today 2.3 (2000): 21-24.

Lewis, Rudolph. “Magpies, Goddesses, & Black Male Identity in the Romantic Poetry of Marcus Bruce Christian.” Paper presented at College Language Association, April 2000, Baltimore, MD.

Lewis, Rudolph. “Marcus Bruce Christian and a Theory of a Black Aesthetic.” Paper presented at the Zora Neale Hurston Society Conference held June 1999 at University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Published in ZNHS FORUM (Spring 2000).

Peterson, Betsy. “Marcus Christian: Portrait of a PoetDixie 18 (January 1970).

Redding, Joan. “The Dillard Project: The Black Unit of the Louisiana Writers’ Project.” Louisiana History 32.1 (1991): 47-62

Source: Wikipedia

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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

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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 29 June 2008



Home     Marcus Bruce Christian  Selected Letters  Selected Diary Notes    I Am New Orleans Table (Poems)

Related files:  A Black Aesthetic   Magpies & Godesses   Intro to I Am New Orleans   Tom Dent on Marcus B. Christian   Marcus B. Christian and the WPA (Johnson)

 Marcus Christian: Portrait of a Poet   Marcus Christian: The Man and His Collection  The Federal Writers' Project For Blacks in Louisiana