A Diverse Reading List for Black History Month

Trashing the United States as a cauldron of racist oppression is nothing new, but those who engage in it today tend to have an odd habit of remaining in America. By contrast, during the 1930s black anti-Americans used to pack their bags and head for the Soviet Union. Black History Month is a good time to review the experience of Robert Robinson, author of Black on Red: My 44 Years Inside the Soviet Union

Robinson observed the Communist system “not as a white idealist but as a black man who had been well trained by racism in America to judge the sincerity of a person’s words and deeds. I can say as an expert that one of the greatest myths ever launched by the Kremlin’s propaganda apparatus is that Soviet society is free from racism.” 

In 1962, Robinson explained, race prejudice against blacks was “worse than anything I recalled in the United States during the 1920s and without question worse than in the United States after the decade of the 1950s.” Robinson was a skilled toolmaker and inventor but the Soviets addressed letters to “Negro Robert Robinson.”  

Richard Wright, author of Native Son, Black Boy, and other books, joined the Communist Party in 1932 and in 1937 became Harlem editor of The Daily Worker. Wright later parted ways with the Communists and wrote about it in his contribution to The God That Failed, published in 1949. 

In a Communist Party dominated by whites, Wright explained, “a man could not have his say.” White Party bosses derided the black American as a “bastard intellectual” and “incipient Trotskyite” with an “anti-leadership attitude.” The Communist Party “felt it had to assassinate me morally merely because I did not want to be bound by its decisions,” Wright recalled. “I knew that if they held state power I should have been declared guilty of treason and my execution would have followed.” 

Frank Marshall Davis, author of Livin’ the Blues: Memoirs of a Black Journalist and Poet, joined the Communist Party after Wright and many others left, never to return. Without actually living there, Davis maintained that the USSR had abolished racism, and he spent most of his life defending an all-white Stalinist dictatorship. Davis died in 1987 but in 1995 he showed up as the happy-drunk poet “Frank” in Dreams from My Father.  

As David Garrow explained in Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama, that book was a novel, not an autobiography, and the author a “composite character.” By contrast, Davis admitted that his Sex Rebel, Black, authored under a pseudonym, was actually an autobiography. Frank is a sexual omnivore and some of the passages might warm up a night during the “dark winter” Joe Biden prophesied. At this writing, Amazon has one copy for $349.99 and Dreams from My Father is available for $11.34. Opt for the paperback because Frank disappeared from the audio version, and everything else that appeared under the composite character’s name. 

Like Frank, many on the Left are fond of comparing the United States with Nazi Germany. On that theme, check out Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany, by Hans Massaquoi. “In their many bloody clashes for dominance in Germany,” wrote Massaquoi, “the Nazis and Commies were virtually indistinguishable. Both were totalitarians, ever ready to brutalize to crush resistance to their respective ideologies.” 

After the war, Massaquoi came to America on a student visa. In Harlem, he wrote, “I saw neighborhoods peopled by active working-class folks not much different from those in my old Hamburg neighborhood. The only difference was that everyone—from the mailman to the barber to the policeman to the garbage collector to the occasional big shot in a Cadillac convertible—was black.” 

In the U.S. Army, “we black recruits got on well with our white comrades, and many interracial friendships formed.” In a military band, “we and our white buddies were like peas in a pod” and “our new integrated band not only looked like one harmonious ensemble, but it sounded better than either of the two groups had sounded alone.” Massaquoi encountered racists in the United States, even in the north, but he never equated the United States and Nazi Germany. 

Meanwhile, on the 100th anniversary of his birth last year, one of America’s great artists got very little love in the media. Black History Month is a good time to check out Kansas City Lightning: The Life and Times of Charlie Parker by the great Stanley Crouch, who passed away last September. Also check out “Nationalism of Fools,” Crouch’s Village Voice essay from 1985. 

Well worth reading at any time of year, Crouch, Robinson, Wright, and Massaquoi bring diversity and enrichment to Black History Month.

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About Lloyd Billingsley

Lloyd Billingsley is the author of Hollywood Party and other books including Bill of Writes and Barack ‘em Up: A Literary Investigation. His journalism has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Spectator (London) and many other publications. Billingsley serves as a policy fellow with the Independent Institute.

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