The formation of a black cultural front is examined by looking at the works of poet Langston Hughes, novelist Chester Himes, and cartoonist Ollie Harrington. While none of them were card-carrying members of the Communist Party, they all participated in the Left at one point in their careers. Interestingly, they all turned to creating popular culture in order to reach the black masses who were captivated by the movies, radio, newspapers, and detective novels. There are chapters on the Hughes' "Simple" stories, Himes' detective fiction, and Harrington's "Bootsie" cartoons.
Collectively, the experience of these three figures contributes to the story of a "long" movement for African American freedom that flourished during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Yet this book also stresses the impact that McCarthyism had on dismantling the Black Left and how it affected each individual involved. Each was radicalized at a different moment and for different reasons. Each suffered for their past allegiances, whether fleeing to the haven of the "Black Bank" in Paris, or staying home and facing the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Yet the lasting influence of the Depression in their work was evident for the rest of their lives.
Brian Dolinar is the editor of The Negro in Illinois: The WPA Papers. He taught history and African American studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. His articles have appeared in Langston Hughes Review, The Southern Quarterly, and Studies in American Humor.