The New Red Negro: The Literary Left and African American Poetry, 1930-1946

By James Edward Smethurst | Go to book overview

Conclusion
"Sullen Bakeries of Total Recall"

I acknowledge the demands of Surrealist realization. I challenge Apollinaire to stagger drunk from his grave and write a poem about the Rosenbergs' last days in a housing project . . . -- BOB KAUFMAN, "SULLEN BAKERIES OF TOTAL RECALL"

Commentators often have characterized the immediate post- World War II era of African-American letters and culture generally as cautiously optimistic, save for some lingering anxiety over potential nuclear armageddon and McCarthyism. 1 In these accounts, the neomodernist strains of postwar African-American literature are largely an "integrationist" expression of this optimism and a rejection of the "protest" literature of the 1930s and early 1940s. It is certainly true that the wartime breaches in Jim Crow, particularly in terms of employment, housing, and public accommodations, were not completely nullified in the "reconversion" period that followed the war.

However, the actual experiences and attitudes of African-Americans were far more mixed than such labels of qualified optimism would suggest. As George Lipsitz points out, "reconversion" often had a disastrous impact on urban women workers and black workers employed in the mass-production industries. 2 In the South, Jim Crow remained largely intact and the attitude of southern segregationists became more belligerent in the face of the new challenges to the system brought on by the war. While there was a decline in "traditional" racist violence, notably lynching, the postwar era featured an intense (and often brutal) repression of militant anti -- Jim Crow organizations (particularly in the labor movement) that had been active in the South during the late 1930s and early 1940s. 3

This repression, was not, of course, limited to the South. One ironic feature of the early cold war era was that the same ideology that was authorized by the international competition of the American-led "Free World" with the Soviet-led "People's

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