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for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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I am not a communist and have never been one. The purpose of the essay that I prepared was

to record to the best of my knowledge and ability the history and social conditions of the Negro

in Washington. I do not see how the essay as a whole or in the specific section that shocked

Congressman Keefe can be considered communistic or nazi-fascistic propaganda.



Books by Sterling Brown

Southern Road / The Negro Caravan / The Collected Poems of Sterling Brown  /

The Negro in American Fiction; Negro Poetry and Drama  / Last Ride of Wild Bill and Eleven Narrative Poems

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Books about Sterling Brown

Joanne,Gabbin. Sterling A. Brown: Building the Black Aesthetic Tradition (1994)

John Edgar Tidwell, Sterling A. Brown's A Negro Looks at the South (2007)

Charles Rowell. Callaloo's Sterling A. Brown: Special Issue (1998)

Mark A. Sanders. Afro-Modernist Aesthetics & the Poetry of Sterling Brown (1999)

Mark A. Sanders. A Son's Return: Selected Essays of Sterling Brown (1996)

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Sterling Brown to Henry Alsbery 

Congressman Keefe & Maria Syphax

April 10, 1939


To: Mr. Alsberg

From: Sterling A. Brown

Subject: Statement Concerning Congressman's Keefe's Speech

The chief charges made by Congressman Keefe seems to be (1) that the essay, "The Negro in Washington," was the work of a communist; (2) that it sought to stir "class hatred" by portraying "the oppression of the Negro by the white race"; (3) that the reference to George Washington Parke Custis was libellous [sic], not only of him but of George and Martha Washington and Robert E. Lee; (4) that the reference was false, based upon the "mere assertion of a young Negro student trained in Howard University"; and (5) that I failed to reply to his letter or to receive his telephone calls.

Since I was responsible for the essay "The Negro in Washington" in supervision and final writing, I should like to make the following brief statements. Fuller statements, if desired, will be made later.

1.     I am not a communist and have never been one. The purpose of the essay that I prepared was to record to the best of my knowledge and ability the history and social conditions of the Negro in Washington. I do not see how the essay as a whole or in the specific section that shocked Congressman Keefe can be considered communistic or nazi-fascistic propaganda.

2.     What Congressman Keefe calls the "obvious spirit . . . which indicated to me at least an attempt . . . to portray the oppression of the Negro by the white race and thereby stimulate a feeling of class hatred," has not been obvious to the many reviewers and readers of both races who have failed to mention the "class hatred. As Congressman Keefe repeats in his speech, the Negro has had to contend with "adverse circumstances." I could hardly have written a historical account without recording some of these "adverse circumstances." But throughout the essay the fine services of humanitarian white people were insisted upon, and in the conclusion the point was explicitly made that

From the outset, white humanitarians have protested his enslavement and abuse, and farsighted statesmen have worked toward his integration in the total pattern.

3.     The reference to George Washington Parke Custis was very incidental. It was not made with intent to defame. As Congressman Keefe is from a northern state, he is probably not familiar with the large amount of literature that deals with miscegenation in America, or with the stories handed down by oral tradition, both among white people and Negroes. Statements that represent the opinions concerning miscegenation of well known southern white writers are affixed to this memorandum. [Note: this list was not found among these papers. That list may indeed exist.]

I wrote the sentence because I was convinced of its accuracy. The relationship has long been a matter of common belief among Negroes of Washington and among certain white people. I had heard of it for years. My historical source, however, was the article by E. Delorus Preston [Journal of Negro History, Vol. XX (4), October 1935]

I was confident of Mr. Preston's carefulness as a research student; and the evidence as presented was convincing. To enter into the demonstration of a moot point of genealogy would be too long for our present purposes, but I am as confident today as I was when I wrote the sentence that the facts are as stated.

I certainly intended no slander. A white father's caring for his Negro children was, according to my research on the subject, not unknown but somewhat unusual in those days. In my opinion it merits commendation and was certainly written of in a spirit opposite to "viciousness."

I certainly did not intend the sentence to "destroy the character and reputation of . . . the family and household of George and Martha Washington and Robert E. Lee."

I am affixing a statement setting forth what I considered proof of the relationship.

4.    All of the efforts of the staff of my office and of other workers on the Federal Writers' Project have not been able to discover the "tremendous evidence to the contrary in the Congressional Library." Mr. Preston is not a "young Negro student trained in Howard University." He graduated from Howard University over twenty years ago. He has since studied toward his doctorate in history at Ohio State University, has contributed to learned journals, and is now the dean of a Negro college in Florida.

5.     The fifth charge is the only one that I consider true. I failed to reply to Congressman Keefe's letter (1) probably of procrastination due to a heavy schedule (2) because I could add nothing tot he information already sent to him on the case, information secured from this office. Concerning the telephone calls, I am unable to understand why I could not be reached, or why no record was made of Congressman Keefe's telephoning. 

I have written a letter to the Congressman apologizing for my discourtesy in neglecting to reply to him.

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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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Sex at the Margins

Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry

By Laura María Agustín

This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. "Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."—Lisa Adkins, University of London

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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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