Black Boy: Chapter 20
Richard’s work is again shifted, this time to the Federal Writers’ Project, where he writes guidebooks alongside communists who try to oust him. One day leaving the building, he witnesses a picket line and is shocked when his name is shouted, accused of being a Trotskyite. He goes straight to the local head of the Party but is instead granted an appointment with Alma Zetkin, who barely looks at him as he explains the reasons for his visit. Shuffling her papers, she replies curtly that there is nothing to be done to help if he cannot get along with his local comrades, and Richard leaves feeling empty. He spends a sleepless night wondering why things have gone this way. At a May Day parade, he misses joining his union contingent and is spotted by a friend marching with the Communist Party’s South Side section who urges him to join them. However, Cy Perry, a white communist leader, physically removes Richard while his black peers look on, and as he listens to the slogans chanted of rising up together for a new world order, he feels more alone than ever. He is convinced that the whites are as miserable as the blacks in a country that has failed to chart a human path, and pledges as he holds pencil to paper in his narrow room to continue to try to write about humanity despite the inhumanity that surrounds him.
Richard’s transfer to the Federal Writers’ Project bodes well for him professionally, but it is sheer luck that due to the editor’s principles and sympathy for his plight his communist colleagues are this time unsuccessful in having him removed. His visit to the head of Party to try to solve the issue once and for all results in not only no change in his standing in the community, but is discouraging in that the woman who meets with him in lieu of the director is dismissive of his complaint. While Richard might understandably feel disheartened by the Communists’ treatment of him, instead of taking the episode to heart, Richard holds on to his own ideals and wills himself to apply his skills to the worthy cause of writing, in turn dismissing the Communists just as they did him.
In contrast to the self-loathing which caused Richard to leave both his job with Mr. Crane in the South and with the Hoffmans in the North, Richard now seems to possess sufficient confidence to move on with his life after his fall out with the Communists. His physical removal from the May Day parade confirms his hypothesis that the Party has far too many rifts within itself to ever unite the wider world. As he sits by himself contemplating his recent experience, it is clear that all of his efforts to belong have served to make him a stronger individual writer, capable of articulating his understanding of literature, philosophy, psychology and sociology in a way that will speak to others. Although his love of reading has distanced him from his family and wider community, it has also strengthened Richard’s belief in himself and has inspired him to overcome the obstacles to achieving his goal of becoming a writer. He is determined to “wait for an echo,” any sign that his words and thoughts resonate with others, and refuses to let anything prevent him from continuing his efforts to find the right words to capture his and others’ life experience.
Although his life will likely continue to have moments of deep loneliness, Richard appears willing to move forward with his dream of writing novels with a more realistic sense of hope in himself than the idealistic hope he possessed prior to actually living in the North. Richard’s experience in Chicago, and particularly his falling in and out of love and step with the local Communists, demonstrates his ability to rely on himself. His physical move northward and emotional growth, both inward and outward, have made him a stronger person and writer. Despite the challenges surrounding him such as the Depression and racism, Richard’s art seems to give him reason enough to carry on.