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for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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Letters from the

Archives of Marcus Bruce Christian

From & To Friends, Colleagues, & Wife



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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Letter 32


Ruth Lonely--Chicago Wears Thin

Thinks About Returning Home



Chicago Signal Depot 

1093 West Pershing Road 

Chicago 9, Illinois 

July 14, 1945 


My Dear Bruce, 

I received your letter and was glad to hear from you. Glad also that you liked the program, it's yours. I thought you would like to have it. I had wanted to send you a souvenir of Katheryn Dunham and her troupe but unfortunately that night I had only enough for one program. Her programs cost 75 cents each. That was the highest I had ever paid for a program but I assure you it was worth it.

Did I tell you that while Robeson was playing "Othello" he and Uta Hagan made the front page of the magazine section of the Chicago Tribune? Since I have been here I have been saving my clippings. Anything of importance to the Negro. Know what? When I moved here the party who previously occupied this room left some old Life magazines. I went through the lot of them and whattayaknow, I found the issue of Life with the Detroit Race Riot.

I got awfully angry with Life magazine when I read an article on the soldier and noticed particularly that Negroes at Mess call eat more than they are able "their eyes being bigger than their stomach." I saved it anyhow.

I have sent a lot of these clippings home because I began compiling so many things that if I ever intended to leave Chicago in a hurry I would probably need a trunk or two and I never like too much baggage. But, if you would like to see these articles and return them to me when you have finished with them I shall send them to you. 

One thing I have found out about Chicago. Though it's a convenient place to live, everything handy, still it hasn't got that clean fresh odor of New Orleans air. There are so many factories over here, keeps the air polluted with soot and dust. Being the Windy City it also isn't very clean. There are so many allys here. Crime is actually inviting.

Bruce, I have never seen so many Negroes in my life. It's so noticeable because most of the Negroes are found on Chicago's south side. People are coming up here in droves, the stations are always crowded. It isn't such a bad idea for people to come up here but most of them are the ignorant poor types who make everything bad for the rest of the Negroes who actually know how to use their freedom.

There are so many Negroes from the worst Southern states that sometimes it's hard to believe that you're in a Northern State. Those who are born here don't seem to be any better educated than our folks back home. The school kids strike me as though they're still ignorant, the rough and ready type who'll give you plenty of trouble. By no means do they look progressive. Bruce, you should hear the language kids five and six use, it's terrible!

You know Bruce, many Negroes from the south come up here with no idea at all of the high cost of living . . . Jumping from $12 and $15 a month rent in N.O. to $50 and $60 a month here in Chicago is a devil of thing, as a result, many of them are crowded into filthy stink hovels and live in the most deplorable conditions.

For a room for myself alone I pay $7.50 a week. It's a nice little room and I like it. The buildings here in Chicago look like the houses I suppose England would have. The little house which I live looks like an old English Castle. Upper and lower floors, with rooms only on one side of the hall.

The place where I live is old but in good condition. We have a very beautiful lawn out front and a rock garden in the back yard which is slowly covering up a concrete pool which at one time must have been for small children. There are also a few trees in the yard. One right near my window. I am in a very convenient place -- right next to the bathroom. Bath tub is big enough to swim in. The wash basin is very antique. I think you would agree with me.

There aren't any stores on our street, we have to go over to Indiana Ave., or on the the intersections of our street. Being a street of mostly residences, it's naturally quiet.

The parks are very beautiful and now that summer's here one can see couples picnicing there or tanning themselves in the sun.

The huge library down on State Street is a dream. I have been in it only once. The reason being--a library in the next block from my place. The Cleveland Hall Branch. Rosenwald was the donor of the site.

In this particular library there is a special room for Negro Books. Know what? I found a copy of "Golden Slippers." Of course, I took it to work with me and showed it to the girls and where once they called me "Ruth" some now call me Mrs. Christian and others don't speak to me at all.

The longer I live, the more I understand you. . . .For instance, you never believed in meeting insignificant people. I couldn't understand why, but I do now. You see, I've found out it just doesn't pay to crowd your mind with "friends." They're never really friends anyhow. The best friends and company I could ever have is my radio which I bought second hand but which is very good.

I buy whatever I consider necessary towards making my life happy. Am trying also to save so that one day I'll have everything I want. I am working overtime today for something special. I saw something downtown I know you'll be quite surprised and enthused over it. The man told me it was genuine, I don't know if it is or not but at any rate I know you'll appreciate it.

Bruce, I suppose you're wondering--why the long letter or why a letter at all? Well, for months I hadn't given you a thought. I had a dream about you not long ago and the next day your little booklet came. The booklet showed me somehow you were thinking about me, whether it meant thinking of me little or much I do not know. But I did begin to think about us . . . what you had tried to do for me and why we didn't succeed. I dreamed about Caliban the other nite. Perhaps because there's a dog next door who looks like him and who does a lot of barking.

I am wondering my dear, if 16 months have changed you. I have learned to do many things, to think quite differently about a lot of things I used to hold against you. I mingle with people but not to the extent of becoming too friendly.

Take good care of yourself and eat your meals regularly. And above all . . . finsih the book . . . or . . . Are you waiting for your Skipper to come back and help you with it? I thought surely -- that when I left you, you would have found time to finish the book. It always seemed as though I got in your way.

All of this writing and all I really want to know is -- Do you miss me? have I ever really meant anything to you or . . . do I still mean anything to you? Write soon and let me know.

Your skipper, 


P.S. Give Dr. Quarles my regards. Also tell Sister and all the folks "hello" for me. I thought your letter very sweet, especially the last part. Didn't know you were ever proud of me.

<<---Previous 31  Next--33->> 

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Katherine Dunham

(22 June 1909 – 21 May 2006)


Katherine Dunham was born June 22, 1909, in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. Her parents--Albert Millard Dunham, a tailor and Fanny June Guillaume Taylor, an assistant principal -- afforded her a rather middle class existence. As a teenager her life became a bit rocky with her mother's death, her father's remarriage, and with her father being a strict disciplinarian.

In 1928, Katherine Dunham, with help from her brother Albert Jr., moved to Chicago and began classes at the University of Chicago.Dunham would later earn bachelor, masters and doctoral degrees in anthropology. 

At the university, she, choreographer Ruth Page, and ballet dancer Mark Turbyfill, both members of the Chicago Opera Company, the three opened a short-lived dance studio and Dunham called her dancers the "Ballet Negre." Dunham continued to study dance with her teacher, Madame Ludmila Speranzeva, whose mentoring led Dunham to dance her first leading part in Page's La Guiablesse in 1933.

She was awarded in 1935 the prestigious Rosenwald Foundation Fellowship, Dunham took her first field trip to the Caribbean to study native dance. Haiti and Jamaica provided Dunham with new insights; as the villagers began to trust her, Dunham joined some of their most sacred dance rituals. She would ultimately claim Haiti as her second home and even adopt their Vodum (or Voodoo) religion.

In 1936, Dunham  returned to the United States and brought a wealth of ideas for exciting choreography, which she used in her new appointments as dance director for the Negro Federal Theatre Project in 1938, and the New York Labor Stage in 1939. 

In 1940, Dunham's production of "Le Jazz Hot-From Haiti to Harlem"  established her as one of the most celebrated dynamic choreographers for African American dancers. Then came her production of "Cabin in the Sky," her first Broadway musical. 

During the 1940's and 50's, Dunham's School of Dance provide the training ground for numerous African American dancers, including entertainer, Eartha Kitt and actor Marlon Brando..

In 1962, Dunham's last Broadway appearance was  in "Banboche." That year she also choreographed "Aida" for New York City's Metropolitan Opera Company. This work brought her to serve as artist-in-residence at Southern Illinois University, where she staged a brilliant production of Charles Gounod's 1859 opera, Faust, after which SIU offered Dunham a permanent position with the university as Visiting Artist in the Fine Arts Division.

Dunham secured funding for the creation of the Performing Arts Training Center, a school designed to offer city youth constructive alternatives to violence. The school opened in 1967, and in 1970, Dunham took 43 children from the school to Washington, D.C. to perform at White House Conference on Children.

Upon her acceptance, Dunham consented to house her extensive professional memorabilia nearby at SIU's East St. Louis branch. 

Miss Dunham’s intellectual, artistic, and humanitarian contributions have earned her many coveted awards over the years. She acted as advisor on the First World Festival of Negro Arts, held in Senegal in 1965 and 1966. In 1980, she was the subject of a television special entitled, "Divine Drumbeats: Katherine Dunham and Her People."  She also received the Presidential Medal of Arts, the Kennedy Center Honors, French Legion of Honor, Southern Cross of Brazil, Grand Cross of Haiti, NAACP Lifetime Achievement Award, Lincoln Academy Laureate, and the Urban Leagues’ Lifetime Achievement Award. 

In 1989, Dunham was given a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame for the field of Acting and Entertainment. She has also authored numerous books and papers, which chronicle her experiences as she explored the connection of culture to dance.

Her marriage in 1939 to Canadian-born, John Pratt, a painter and costume and set designer who was also white, raised some initial controversy. But the couple's obvious devotion to one another (and later, to their adopted daughter, Martinique), disarmed any skepticism from friends and family concerning the interracial marriage, which would endure until Pratt's death in 1986.

Katherine Dunham continues her creative work as Executive Director and founder of the Katherine Dunham Centers for Arts and Humanities in East St. Louis ( Festival of Arts

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Selections from the Katherine Dunham Collection at the Library of Congress

The Katherine Dunham Collection consists of materials purchased from the archives of the Dunham Centers in East St. Louis, Illinois, and is made possible through a grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. The Collection comprises 1,694 items in a variety of video/motion picture formats. It documents many aspects of Dunham’s dance career: her work as a choreographer, her dance technique and teaching method, various of her performances and productions, and her anthropological analysis of the dance and ritual of the African diaspora. The Collection also testifies to her global activism and leadership in the field of human rights and her advocacy of African American causes in her community.

The materials in this collection are housed and available for use in the Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Reading Room. Viewing requests should be directed to the MBRS Reading Room at 202-707-8572. Items should be requestedusing the “Motion Picture ID#” given in this document. The numbers found in the field labeled “Tape #” are only included for use in provenance tracking. (Those are the numbers that were on the tapes at the Dunham Center Archives in East St. Louis.) Continued . . .

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Ruth Warm again on Chicago and Gives Christian Her View of Conflict  / Ruth Unhappy with Christian's Response

Ruth Lonely for Christian Chicago Wears Thin  / Ruth Enjoys Negro Life in Chicago   /  Ruth, the  Bible, & a Marriage Certificate 

Ruth Anxious Aout War's End Plans to return to Will's Point  

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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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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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#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


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#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—WashingtonPost

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The Warmth of Other Suns

The Epic Story of America's Great Migration

By Isabel Wilkerson

Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, a sharecropper's wife, left Mississippi for Milwaukee in 1937, after her cousin was falsely accused of stealing a white man's turkeys and was almost beaten to death. In 1945, George Swanson Starling, a citrus picker, fled Florida for Harlem after learning of the grove owners' plans to give him a "necktie party" (a lynching). Robert Joseph Pershing Foster made his trek from Louisiana to California in 1953, embittered by "the absurdity that he was doing surgery for the United States Army and couldn't operate in his own home town." Anchored to these three stories is Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Wilkerson's magnificent, extensively researched study of the "great migration," the exodus of six million black Southerners out of the terror of Jim Crow to an "uncertain existence" in the North and Midwest. Wilkerson deftly incorporates sociological and historical studies into the novelistic narratives of Gladney, Starling, and Pershing settling in new lands, building anew, and often finding that they have not left racism behind. The drama, poignancy, and romance of a classic immigrant saga pervade this book, hold the reader in its grasp, and resonate long after the reading is done.

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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 2 March 2012




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