ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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 A formidable researcher, Christian collected material on folklore, history, and mythical figures, lending

his expertise to the group of writers that formed the Negro Unit of the Federal Writers Project—

a veritable who’s who of intellectuals—at Dillard during the 30s and 40s



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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Poems in the Key of Life

By Susan Larson, Book Editor The Times-Picayune

A Review of 

I Am New Orleans and Other Poems by Marcus B. Christian

Edited by Rudolph Lewis and Amin Sharif

introduced by Rudolph Lewis


Marcus Christian (1900-1976) is surely one of the unsung heroes of New Orleans literature. A prolific poet and researcher, he was the director of the Negro Unit of the Federal Writers Project at Dillard University.

The University of New Orleans Earl K. Long Library now houses his archives—a formidable collection (150 linear feet) of business records, poems, correspondence, diaries and other documents. As archivist Florence Jumonville writes in her preface to I Am New Orleans and Other Poems, “Taken together they constitute an extraordinary chronicle of Christian’s remarkable life and his multifaceted effort to place his own existence in the broader context of the black condition (both historical and literary) in New Orleans and the South.”

Born in Mechanicsville (now part of Houma) Christian, who was orphaned at an early age moved to New Orleans when he was a teenager, hoping to make money and find a better life, taking various hobs—he was a chauffeur, he opened a small dry cleaning business and attended night school. And he was always writing. Early work was published in Opportunity and Crisis, leading magazines of the Harlem Renaissance.

A formidable researcher, Christian collected material on folklore, history, and mythical figures, lending his expertise to the group of writers that formed the Negro Unit of the Federal Writers Project—a veritable who’s who of intellectuals—at Dillard during the 30s and 40s. Regrettably, his “History of Black Louisiana” remains unpublished, though researchers are still able to view material at UNO.

But now we have these poems, perhaps a starting point for a critical revival. In his introduction, Rudolph Lewis, a reference librarian at Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, Md., writes of Christian’s life and times and his relationships with such writers as Lyle Saxon, Tom Dent, and many others.

Of the thousands of poems in the UNO archive, Lewis and Sharif have selected 50, arranging them thematically. The first deals with the role of the artist in society, with such poems as “Canal Street At Noon” illustrating racial inequities in shared public spaces. The second group deals with the difficulties of love, poems with such evocative titles as “Man Done Left Me Blues” and “Creole Mammah Turn Your Damper Dow”; the third, with the effects of Jim Crow upon interracial affections, drawing upon such metaphors as “Forbidden Fruit.” Lewis carefully illuminates how Christian’s personal relationships with the women in his life played out in his poems.

The fourth group deals with the repression of blacks with such inspirational works as “Degraded Freeman” (You are degraded freemen / when you can look upon wrongs / Hatred and persecution, / And hold your tongues). The fifth section is composed of Afro-centric writings; “Somebody's Mammy / with outstretched palms / She is sitting – poor Africa – begging for bread").

The sixth group, written later in Christian’s life, attempts to come to terms with his personal history. This section includes two epitaphs; the final one, written in 1968, reads, “Take it or leave it – / It matters not; / The man is dead, / So let him rot.” The collection concludes with the magnificent, Whitmanesque “I Am New Orleans,” a catalog and celebration of the complex nature of the city and the role of African-Americans in its long history.

The history of African-American writers in New Orleans is till being written, every day, by poets and playwrights and essayists and fiction writers all over the city. I Am New Orleans and Other Poems by Marcus B. Christian is a vital part of our literary heritage, restored to us in this important and very welcome book.

Source: The Times-Picayune, July 4, 1999 / posted 20 August 2005

Editorial note: The review below is a curious one. Take note that the reviewer Susan Larson (book editor, Times-Picayune) above quotes Florence Jumonville (who I found later to be rather obnoxious and a bore) who had nothing to do with the work of pulling together the poems for the book (a regular johnny-come-lately). Her preface is the work of Tom Bonner, the publisher, who I found to be a liar and a cheat and who tried along with his assistance to seize possession of the book and my copyright of the organization of the poems.  (I would not be surprised if he is still printing off copies of the book without consulting me. 500 copies were the initial run and they sold out within six months. For our work we received 50 copies.) I the editor who did most of the work and wrote the seminal essay (the Introduction) on the poetry of Marcus Bruce Christian am barely mentioned until the middle of the review. And then not quoted at all. I'm sure Ms. Larson meant well. 

The review took up half a page in The Times-Picayune (July 4, 1999). But racism in all its subtleties is what it is in America. But I am thankful that Christian received some public attention. But dealing with Bonner left a sour taste in my mouth. He wanted  to publish further the additional 50 poems in my possession but I decided to leave these very white people be.

Instead of dealing with such neo-overseers I have made I Am New Orleans and Other Poems by Marcus B. Christian (Introduction and Poems) available online. I act in the no-compromise tradition of Marcus Christian. Enjoy.Rudolph Lewis 

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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

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Incognegro: A Memoir of Exile and Apartheid

By  Frank B. Wilderson III

Wilderson, a professor, writer and filmmaker from the Midwest, presents a gripping account of his role in the downfall of South African apartheid as one of only two black Americans in the African National Congress (ANC). After marrying a South African law student, Wilderson reluctantly returns with her to South Africa in the early 1990s, where he teaches Johannesburg and Soweto students, and soon joins the military wing of the ANC. Wilderson's stinging portrait of Nelson Mandela as a petulant elder eager to accommodate his white countrymen will jolt readers who've accepted the reverential treatment usually accorded him. After the assassination of Mandela's rival, South African Communist Party leader Chris Hani, Mandela's regime deems Wilderson's public questions a threat to national security; soon, having lost his stomach for the cause, he returns to America. Wilderson has a distinct, powerful voice and a strong story that shuffles between the indignities of Johannesburg life and his early years in Minneapolis, the precocious child of academics who barely tolerate his emerging political consciousness. Wilderson's observations about love within and across the color line and cultural divides are as provocative as his politics; despite some distracting digressions, this is a riveting memoir of apartheid's last days.—Publishers Weekly

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Becoming American Under Fire

Irish Americans, African Americans, and the Politics of Citizenship

During the Civil War Era

By Christian G. Samito

In Becoming American under Fire, Christian G. Samito provides a rich account of how African American and Irish American soldiers influenced the modern vision of national citizenship that developed during the Civil War era. By bearing arms for the Union, African Americans and Irish Americans exhibited their loyalty to the United States and their capacity to act as citizens; they strengthened their American identity in the process. . . . For African American soldiers, proving manhood in combat was only one aspect to their quest for acceptance as citizens. As Samito reveals, by participating in courts-martial and protesting against unequal treatment, African Americans gained access to legal and political processes from which they had previously been excluded. The experience of African Americans in the military helped shape a postwar political movement that successfully called for rights and protections regardless of race. For Irish Americans, soldiering in the Civil War was part of a larger affirmation of republican government and it forged a bond between their American citizenship and their Irish nationalism. The wartime experiences of Irish Americans helped bring about recognition of their full citizenship through naturalization and also caused the United States to pressure Britain to abandon its centuries-old policy of refusing to recognize the naturalization of British subjects abroad. / For Love of Liberty

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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 22 March 2012




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