The decades following the collapse of the Soviet Union have seen an increased interest in uncovering the relationship between New Negro era authors and intellectuals and the radical leftism that had such a widespread influence in the twentieth century. Scholars are reanalyzing the life and works of figures like Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, W.E.B. Du Bois and others in light of each author's interaction with and acceptance of communist and socialist ideals. These studies trace these radical connections in an effort to better understand New Negro authors and their work during a time of revolution and social upheaval. There is still much work to be done, however, in the study of those African American authors who were not directly allied with these movements, but nonetheless were vital voices in the radical atmosphere of the time. One such author is Wallace Thurman, an influential editor and writer who is connected to communism and socialism in undeniable ways, but also seems ideologically distant from his radical leftist peers. Examining Thurman's body of work as a part of a larger revolutionary trend reveals that though his views differed from and often reacted against communist rhetoric as he understood it, Thurman did use that rhetoric to form his own radical ideology. Thurman's most famous novel, The Blacker the Berry, gives insight into both the radical change that the author hoped for, as well as his vision of the best way to bring about that change. The novel's protagonist, Emma Lou Morgan, represents those individuals who cannot quite manage to fit into a mass movement because her dark skin and psychological issues with her own race and skin color prevent her from easily molding herself to the ideals of others. Emma Lou's struggle for mental independence reveals that though Thurman longed for large-scale, radical reform, he also insisted that no such reform was possible without first helping individuals to overcome their personal psychological barriers. This study of Thurman and his radicalism not only shows that not all revolutionaries of the time were communists, it also begins the work of tracing a New Negro radicalism that was connected to the communist and socialist movements, but also included veins unique to each author's social, racial, and geographic position.
College and Department
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Milligan, Maria Elise, "Red by Association: New Negro Communism and Wallace Thurman's The Blacker the Berry" (2013). Theses and Dissertations. 3609.
Wallace Thurman, The Blacker the Berry, New Negro, Communism, Radicalism