Mercy, Mercy Me: African-American Culture and the American Sixties

By James C. Hall | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
MODERN DOUBT TO
ANTIMODERN COMMITMENT

PAULE MARSHALL AND WILLIAM DEMBY

The American writer inhabits a country at once the dream of Eu-
rope and a fact of history; he lives on the last horizon of an endlessly
retreating vision of innocence–on the “frontier,” which is to say,
the margin where the theory of original goodness and the fact of
original sin come face to face. To express this “blackness ten times
black” and to live by it in a society in which, since the decline of or-
thodox Puritanism, optimism has become the chief effective reli-
gion, is a complex and difficult task.

LESLIE FIEDLER, Love and Death in the American Novel (1960)1

If we wish to reply to the expectations of the people of Europe, it is
no good sending them back a reflection, even an ideal reflection, of
their society and their thought with which from time to time they
feel immeasurably sickened.… For Europe, for ourselves, and for
humanity, comrades, we must turn over a new leaf, we must work
out new concepts, and try to set afoot a new man.

FRANZ FANON, The Wretched of the Earth (1961)2

It is typical to invoke in accounts of sixties American cultural history the moral devastation of the Vietnam War. This is appropriate given the great rift in American life it created, the range of imaginative responses it elicited, and the significant investment of intellectual energy it demanded. But the Vietnam War does not represent the whole of the imaginative encounter with wars of decolonization in the sixties. Not surprisingly, wars of liberation fought on the African continent were of great concern to AfricanAmerican artists and intellectuals. While W.E.B. Du Bois's dreams for a grand Pan-African coalition were never realized, the process by which African nations organized and fought for their independence from the imperial powers inspired a wide range of black creative intellectuals in the United States

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