One of the subtexts in The Great Debaters is Melvin B. Tolson’s political organizing, specifically his commitment to helping African American sharecroppers and workers achieve something like social and economic equity in the Jim Crow South. In the film, Mr. Tolson (again, Denzel Washington plays him) is seen meeting with African American farmers, which is soon broken up by the KKK. The redneck sheriff, played with fatmouthing aplomb by John Heard, holds Mr. Tolson’s political and social activism over his head, and the viewer understands that Melvin B. Tolson is probably a communist.
Anyone who had read the novel Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison or, more specific and literal to the subject, Richard Wright’s memoir Black Boy, has some background knowledge on the relationship between African Americans and the Communist Party, particularly in the 1930s.
Here, in the last of three Weekly Texts for Black History Month, is a reading on the allure of the Communist Party USA for African Americans, particularly in the 1930s. I understand that in certain school districts, this reading may well be forbidden fruit. That being so does not, I think, diminish the importance of understanding this part of our American past. I would think for educators teaching units on either Invisible Man or Black Boy. this reading would be de rigueur.
And that’s what I have to offer for Black History Month, 2016. As always, if you used any of this material, I hope you found it helpful; I would, again, as always, be grateful to hear from you about what worked or didn’t in your use of these readings.
Until next week….