Cover image for Understanding Richard Wright's Black boy : a student casebook to issues, sources, and historical documents
Understanding Richard Wright's Black boy : a student casebook to issues, sources, and historical documents
Felgar, Robert, 1944-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, 1998.
Physical Description:
xiii, 165 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.
Reading Level:
1270 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3545.R815 Z6518 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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In Black Boy , Richard Wright triumphs over an ugly, racist world by fashioning an inspiring, powerful, beautiful, and fictionalized autobiography. To help students understand and appreciate his story in the cultural, political, racial, social, and literary contexts of its time, this casebook provides a rich source of primary historical documents, collateral readings, and commentary. The selection of unique documents is designed to place in sharp relief the issue of pervasive racism in American society. Documents include excerpts from other autobiographies and a novel, legal documents, speeches, an interview, an anthropological study, magazine and newspaper articles, and contemporary editorials. Most of the documents are available in no other printed form.

From Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, and W.E.B. Du Bois on the one hand, to Black Codes, Jim Crow laws, and white supremacist pronouncements on the other, Felgar creates a dialogue between the voices of oppressed blacks, including Richard Wright, and those of oppressing whites over the issue of race and racism. Students will be able to analyze a variety of perspectives on this issue from the earliest days of the American republic to the present day. Felgar also includes primary documents on the American dream of success, which has remained elusive for so many blacks. A chapter on the American autobiographical tradition uses excerpts from Ben Franklin's autobiography, as well as from those by Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, and W.E.B. Du Bois, to place Wright squarely in the tradition of this genre and show that Wright was more a believer in the myth of perpetual upward mobility than he realized. In a chapter called The Dream Deferred, documents show how freed blacks were just as enslaved by new and restrictive laws after the Civil War as they had been under slavery. Each chapter concludes with study questions, ideas for written and oral examination, and suggested readings to aid students in examining the issues raised by Wright's autobiography.

Author Notes

ROBERT FELGAR is Professor of English at Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, Alabama. He is author of Richard Wright (1980), as well as numerous articles on black literature, Robert Browning, and Mississippi writers. He directed two Summer Seminars for School Teachers on The Achievement of Richard Wright under the sponsorship of the National Endowments for the Humanities. He is currently writing articles on Wright's novel Native Son .

Reviews 1

School Library Journal Review

Gr 8 Up-A comprehensive historical approach to this important book. Whether students are reading the censored version from 1945 or the 1991 unexpurgated text combining both Black Boy and American Hunger, this critical companion remains a significant supplement to understanding the cultural and political milieu in which both Wright and his autobiography were formed. Beginning with a somewhat confusing and overloaded chapter on traditional literary structure and themes, Felgar launches into subsequent sections comprised mostly of primary-source material. In the second section, Wright is placed with other autobiographers with excerpts from Benjamin Franklin, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, and W.E.B. Du Bois. Documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments situate his life and work within a cultural and social framework defining the "American Dream," which is, in the fourth section, exposed for its race, gender, and class exclusions. And finally, essays regarding slavery's inception in America, racial incidences of the 19th and 20th centuries, and present-day issues combine to form the basis for dialogue and discovery. The textbook format provides short, guiding commentaries; questions for discussion or writing; and suggestions for further reading, making this a detailed and insightful complement to Wright's book.-Kate Foldy, Northern Kentucky Univ., Highland Heights, KY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Black BoyBenjamin FranklinFrederick DouglassBooker T. WashingtonW.E.B. Du BoisGeorge Randolph ChesterBooker T. WashingtonW.E.B. Du BoisJoseph Alexander TillinghastRay Stannard BakerWilliam Graham SumnerJean FinotAlfred Holt StoneTheodore BilboJonathan TiloveWilliam C. Singleton III
Introductionp. xi
1. Literary Analysis: Dominant Themes and Structure ofp. 1
2. The Autobiographical Traditionp. 15
from The Autobiography (1909)p. 17
from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845)p. 22
from Up from Slavery (1901)p. 34
from The Souls of Black Folk (1903)p. 45
3. The American Dream of Successp. 55
from The Declaration of Independence (1776)p. 58
from The Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution (1865, 1868, and 1870)p. 63
from J. Hector St. Jean de Crevecoeur, "What Is an American?" (1782)p. 66
from Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford (1907)p. 74
4. The Dream Deferredp. 87
from The North Carolina "Black Code" (1866)p. 89
from Mississippi's "Jim Crow" Laws (1865)p. 89
from The Constitution of the State of Mississippi (1890)p. 90
from Up from Slavery (1901)p. 91
from The Souls of Black Folk (1903)p. 102
from Interview with Clyde Cox (1996)p. 108
5. Race and Racism, Then and Nowp. 115
from The Negro in Africa and America (1902)p. 118
from "What Is a Lynching? A Study of Mob Justice, South and North" (1905)p. 127
from Folkways: A Study of the Importance of Usages, Manners, Customs, Mores, and Morals (1906)p. 135
from Race Prejudice (1906)p. 137
from "Is Race Friction Between Blacks and Whites in the United States Growing and Inevitable?" (1907-1908)p. 142
from Remarks About Black Boy Made Before the U.S. Senate (1945)p. 147
from "Scars of Slavery" (1994)p. 149
from "White? Black? Multi? Bi?" (1996)p. 154
Indexp. 163