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Literature Study GuidesBlack BoyPart 2 Chapter 19 Summary

Black Boy | Study Guide

Richard Wright

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Black Boy | Part 2, Chapter 19 : The Horror and the Glory | Summary



Wright sets out to write a book of short biographical descriptions of the lives of African American members of the Communist Party. He is dismayed to find other Communists suspicious of him, saying, "He talks like a book." People call Wright "an intellectual"—a label he finds ridiculous considering he is a menial laborer who stopped going to school after ninth grade. But he is not the only party member who is treated with distrust and suspicion. Ross, the first black man Wright chooses as a subject for one of his biographical sketches, comes under party investigation for disloyalty.

Although the Communists want to help African Americans, Wright feels they are misguided. He writes, "White Communists had idealized all Negroes to the extent they did not see the same Negroes I saw." But when Wright tries to explain this, people question his loyalty. He finds his conversations confusing: "Words lost their usual meanings. Simple motives took on sinister colors. ... Ideas turned into their opposites."

Soon Wright learns the party no longer wants to support the John Reed Clubs. These literary organizations mean the world to him, and he resolves to fight for them. With a group of other Communists he hitchhikes to New York City to attend a convention. When he arrives, he is told nobody there can provide housing for a black man. Disgusted, Wright walks several miles to Harlem and rents a room. The following morning he arrives at the convention exhausted and makes his arguments, but nobody takes any notice of his words.

Back home Wright distances himself from the Communist Party. He still wants to work with them, but on his own terms, which grows difficult. Eventually a comrade named Ed Green visits Wright and sends him to see Buddy Nealson, a black Communist leader. Nealson dismisses Wright's interest in writing and assigns him other duties. Eventually Wright decides he cannot work within the party and be true to himself. He attends a meeting and asks to be dismissed as a party member. He thinks this is the end of the matter, but afterward the party treats him as an enemy. When Wright lands a job with the Federal Negro Theater, party members organize a conspiracy to get him forced out. Later he is called to attend a meeting at which Ross is held in a public "trial" and found guilty of being "an enemy of the party." Wright finds this spectacle disgusting and walks out.


From the beginning Wright's relations with the Communist Party are full of conflict. The party gives Wright the intellectual framework for the ideas he wants to explore as a writer, but it also makes demands on Wright's time that prevent him from pursuing his goals. He offers his writing abilities and his African American perspective, but his fellow party members are not interested. They respect action over introspection, which is not Wright's style. He prefers thinking deeply over attending protests and getting into fights.

Although Wright is poor and has little formal education, he thinks and expresses himself like a person who has been to college. This is a problem within the party, where intellectuals are feared and often ostracized. Whenever people call Wright an intellectual, he tries to reason with them—but logic does not sway them. They shrug when Wright points out obvious flaws in their thinking.

Wright believes wholeheartedly in the party's philosophy of granting power to the common people, but at meetings he discovers he is not free to express his own ideas. Party leadership often makes decisions and expects members to offer support. Wright often refuses—especially when he feels the party is failing to support writers or missing an opportunity to communicate to African Americans. To his frustration he is usually ignored. When people do take notice of his differing ideas, they do so only to question his loyalty.

Like the closed religious and racist systems of his southern upbringing, the party is full of fear and suspicion. Everyone suspects everyone of disloyalty, and the only way to avoid suspicion is to conform. People like Wright, who want to think for themselves, sound like traitors, even if their actual words support communism.

All this is deeply upsetting to Wright. For the first time in his life he is trying to connect with other people, and he finds himself at odds with them. But he has a long history of doggedly pursuing his own goals regardless of what other people think. He wants to help the world understand poor black Communists, so he writes about them—even when the party makes it clear these efforts are not appreciated. Party leaders try to force Wright to follow their lead, but he is too much of an individual. Eventually Wright drops out of the party. Even this he tries to do respectfully and finds his efforts thwarted.

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