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In 1968, efforts succeeded on the part of some, including A. P. Tureaud and Joseph Logsdon,

to provide Christian with a position at the University of New Orleans where he could continue

his work on his own terms and conditions.



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 Ironworkers of Louisiana, 1718–1900 The Liberty Monument

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Marcus B. Christian and the WPA

History of Black People in Louisiana

 By Jerah Johnson

Department of History, University of New Orleans


The piece in the Summer 1978 issue of Louisiana History on “The Federal Writers Project for Blacks in Louisiana,” especially its conclusion, may give rise to misunderstanding. Therefore, I offer the following in the hope that it will lay most of the questions to rest.

There is no mystery about the fate of the materials collected by the WPA Dillard Writers Project or the manuscript history of black people in Louisiana by the project’s remarkable director, Marcus B. Christian. The materials—and it was not a large collection—were left at the Dillard library in the custody of the former head of the project, Marcus B. Christian. The collection consisted primarily of notes cards drawn from various published sources but mostly from the city’s nineteenth- and twentieth-century newspaper. Unlike projects in other states, the black investigators in Louisiana did not collect many oral histories of former slaves.

The collection of notes on cards, taken by various workers, were the basis for a number of studies written by the project’s staff, studies that were to be eventually distilled into a history of black people in Louisiana by the director, Marcus Christian. Some of the studies done by the project staff seem to have turned up, at least in substance, in the Guides published by the statewide WPA Writers Project. The rest Christian began working into the planned history, and continued on his own after the project officially shut down in early 1943.

After Christian left Dillard in 1950, the collection was closed and stored in the upstairs of the old library building. Subsequently, storm rains damaged the greater part of the collection beyond restoration. Only a small portion of the cards and other materials were saved. They remain at the Dillard library today.

Fortunately, Marcus Christian had made extensive notes on the collection, including duplicates of the original note cards for his personal use. When he left Dillard, he took those, as well as his manuscript history with him. And he continued to work on the manuscript, on and off, for the rest of his life. After Christian’s death in 1976, his family deposited the manuscript in the collection of historical materials that he had already organized at the University of New Orleans where he spent the last six years of his life as Special Lecturer and Writer-in-Residence.

The collection, including Christian’s notes from the Dillard Project as well as his manuscript and his other, rather more substantial materials, have been available to all scholars and students at the Archives of the University of New Orleans Library for more than a year.

The real mystery and tragedy of the matter have to do with the question why so many forgot about this man or cared so little about his work. He was, of course, not a trained and accredited academic. Born near Houma, Louisiana in 1898, Christian symbolized the painful trek of Black people in our state. His father-teacher had survived Reconstruction and encouraged his son to write poetry and to believe in himself. After his arrival in New Orleans, Christian fashioned himself into a writer and student of Black history. Some recognized and encouraged his talents such as Lyle Saxon, Rudolph Moses, W.E.B. DuBois, Benjamin Quarles, and Charles Rousseve.

The support which society in general and universities in particular gave to such men and their work was always temporary and insufficient. Christian understood this tragedy and dedicated his life, despite terrible personal sacrifices, to the continuation of his major life’s work. His inability to finish the manuscript is a complicated story known only by his closest friends.

It was difficult for Christian to bring the work to completion. It had become his dream and his life-line to dignity and personal esteem. Some grew discouraged when he did not quickly finish the project. But he had no patron; he had no publisher; and, after he left Dillard, he had no regular income or leisure. Indeed, he sank into desperate poverty. He grew understandably suspicious of many and gathered up his manuscript and his copies of the WPA materials in a Ninth Ward shack, hoping someday to complete the history. He believed that hardly anyone cared what happened to him or the materials. A few, to be sure, like Atty. A. P. Tureaud, tried to raise funds through subscriptions within the Black community in order to publish the manuscript. The obstacles facing such a project, however, proved insurmountable. Christian tried desperately to pull off the task singlehandedly: drove himself to master the art of handset type and printing but managed to complete only several collections of his poems.

In 1968, efforts succeeded on the part of some, including A. P. Tureaud and Joseph Logsdon, to provide Christian with a position at the University of New Orleans where he could continue his work on his own terms and conditions. In the next six years, Christian completed an important monograph, Negro Ironworkers of Louisiana; a major poem, “I Am New Orleans”; and several articles in different journals. He also sent his manuscript to several publishers, including LSU Press and Macmillan, but had it summarily rejected each time.

Perhaps with greater academic tone and some updated research, the manuscript would have gained more serious consideration from a publisher. Christian, however, jealously guarded the work, did not invite alteration of his creation. After his death, I considered organizing a project to edit the manuscript and seek its publications. But because the manuscript was in far from finished condition—really little more than a collection of raw materials arranged topically—and because much of what it contained had been available by the more complete scholarship of others, I finally judged that the best disposition was to place it with the rest of his collection.

Christian is not the first artist to leave an unfinished masterpiece. It remains today an open monument to document the history of Black Louisianians and to encourage further work and study. It also remains unfinished to mock all those forces that made for the tragedy of Christian’s life and work.

In conclusion, let me add that the University of New Orleans is in the process of establishing a Marcus B. Christian Lectureship in his honor. Several distinguished scholars and artists who knew of his work will initiate the series this year. Christian deserved this and much more.

Source: Louisiana History • Vol. XX • No. 1 • 1979

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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 Louisiana.” Louisiana 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 Collection.” Louisiana 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 Life.” Times-Picayune (Book Section), July 4, 1999.

Lewis, Rudolph. “Introduction.” I 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 Poet.” Dixie 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

posted 31 January 2011 

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Southern Journey

A Return to the Civil Rights Movement

By Tom Dent

A black youth reared in segregated New Orleans, Dent went to Mississippi for the civil rights movement, and that experience stuck with him. So in 1991, he decided to work his way south from Greensboro, N.C., to Mississippi, skirting both large cities and important officials, to talk to (mostly) black folk and to assess the movement's legacy. At times, Dent's meandering approach lacks depth and is unwieldy, but his personal connection to his inquiry informs his story with commitment. In Greensboro, the unresolved gap between blacks and whites, exemplified in an anniversary celebration of the city's historic sit-ins, remind Dent "of the strained interracial meetings of the 1950s."

In Orangeburg, S.C., a black academic tells him ruefully that many social-work students go into "criminal justice" lacking the broader awareness of the politics behind the new programs. In Albany, Ga., Dent discerns signs of material progress but deep divisions not only between the races but also within the black community. In Mississippi, where he sees black political victories as having had a relatively small payoff, he becomes convinced that a new black organization is needed to supplant the NAACP to address national political issues of special concern to blacks (education, unemployment) and to monitor cases of police and official abuse and discrimination. Though not quite a complete plan, it's a constructive response to Dent's conclusion that the civil rights movement opened up doors, but "once inside, well, there was hardly anything there."—Publishers Weekly

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Predator Nation

Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hijacking of America

By Charles H. Ferguson

If you’re smart and a hard worker, but your parents aren’t rich, you’re now better off being born in Munich, Germany or in Singapore than in Cleveland, Ohio or New York. This radical shift did not happen by accident.  Ferguson shows how, since the Reagan administration in the 1980s, both major political parties have become captives of the moneyed elite.  It was the Clinton administration that dismantled the regulatory controls that protected the average citizen from avaricious financiers.  It was the Bush team that destroyed the federal revenue base with its grotesquely skewed tax cuts for the rich. And it is the Obama White House that has allowed financial criminals to continue to operate unchecked, even after supposed “reforms” installed after the collapse of 2008. Predator Nation reveals how once-revered figures like Alan Greenspan and Larry Summers became mere courtiers to the elite.

Based on many newly released court filings, it details the extent of the crimes—there is no other word—committed in the frenzied chase for wealth that caused the financial crisis.  And, finally, it lays out a plan of action for how we might take back our country and the American dream.Read Chapter 1

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Weep Not, Child

By Ngugi wa Thiong'o

This is a powerful, moving story that details the effects of the infamous Mau Mau war, the African nationalist revolt against colonial oppression in Kenya, on the lives of ordinary men and women, and on one family in particular. Two brothers, Njoroge and Kamau, stand on a rubbish heap and look into their futures. Njoroge is excited; his family has decided that he will attend school, while Kamau will train to be a carpenter. Together they will serve their countrythe teacher and the craftsman. But this is Kenya and the times are against them. In the forests, the Mau Mau is waging war against the white government, and the two brothers and their family need to decide where their loyalties lie. For the practical Kamau the choice is simple, but for Njoroge the scholar, the dream of progress through learning is a hard one to give up.—Penguin 

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My First Coup d'Etat

And Other True Stories from the Lost Decades of Africa

By John Dramani Mahama

Though the colonies of sub-Saharan Africa began to claim independence in the late 1950s and ’60s, autocratic and capricious leadership soon caused initial hope to fade, and Africa descended into its “lost decades,” a period of stagnation and despondency from which much of the continent has yet to recover. Mahama, vice president of the Republic of Ghana, grew up alongside his nascent country and experienced this roller-coaster of fortunes. In this memoir, Mahama, the son of a member of parliament, recounts how affairs of state became real in his young mind on the day in 1966 when no one came to collect him from boarding school—the government had been overthrown, his father arrested, and his house confiscated. In fluid, unpretentious style, Mahama unspools Ghana’s recent history via entertaining and enlightening personal anecdotes: spying on his uncle impersonating a deity in order to cajole offerings of soup from the villagers hints at the power of religion; discussions with his schoolmates about confronting a bully form the nucleus of his political awakening.

As he writes: “The key to Africa’s survival has always been . . . in the story of its people, the paradoxical simplicity and complexity of our lives.” The book draws to a close as the author’s professional life begins. Publishers Weekly

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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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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 31 May 2012




 Home    Literary New Orleans  Marcus Bruce Christian   I Am New Orleans Table  Selected Diary Notes   Selected Letters

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