There may be Catholics who will not read Native Son because its author is a communist. But, did you ever stop to think that Catholics may be among those who are responsible for some of the conditions that have led Richard Wright and scores of others into the ranks of the reds?
The time has come for Christian America to shed its coat of hypocrisy and admit its sin. Even today, years later, I sicken as I remember the manner in which the Negro's lack of human rights was etched upon my memory. It was soon after I had returned to Alabama from a school conducted by the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. While well aware of the fact that I was a Negro, being colored did not seem strange, for so were my friends. True, I knew white people, but they were the nice white people whom my parents served. From them we received nickels, toys and many useful gifts. The atmosphere in our home was such that it gave no hint of the bitterness that corrodes so many black breasts.
There was the time, I'll admit, when I heard talk of a race riot. But being a dramatic child who welcomed any new excitement, I was intrigued by the hushed whispers and drawn shades. Being too young to understand the consequences, I was really disappointed when the scheduled riot failed to take place.
A Ku Klux Klan parade had been another one of the highlights of my childhood. How well I remember my mother taking me from bed in the middle of the night and carrying me in to the parlor. Father, in an old-fashioned nightshirt, with his fists clenched, was standing at a front window. On a couch sat the old woman who nursed my little sister, praying as she clutched the tiny baby to her breast. Outside there was the clatter of horses' hooves. As the light from a fiery cross, held high by white-robed men on horseback, flashed its warning of destruction to all Catholics, Jews and Negroes, I saw my father open the drawer of a nearby table. The reflection of the light glistened on the steel of a pearl handled revolver. My mother tightened her hold upon my arm. But, childlike, I broke away and pressed my nose against the window pane—the better to see the men in white robes who rode fine horses and carried fiery crosses.
As the last clop-clop died in the distance, there was a dreadful silence. My mother shook the old nurse. "Davie," she said, "you can stop praying now. They've passed us by."
Time passed and there followed years under the watchful eyes of white Sisters. I returned to my parents a young lady. Ready to take my place in the world, the Sisters had said. And on that memorable night, when the plight of my race was so clearly explained, one of the neighborhood boys had borrowed a car and called to take me to my first party.
Now the business section of our town had spread until it fringed our neighborhood. This had caused most of our friends to move to other sections of the city. The people who had moved into the houses they left vacant were unknown to us and, on the whole, a pretty motley lot. Even Aunt Lizzie, who had lived in the next house as long as I could remember, had moved to "the hill." And not only did we have a new next-door neighbor, but my mother said she feared they were "a wild bunch."
So on this particular night as I prepared to sally forth to my first party, I was not wholly surprised to see a car, occupied by two white officers of the law, drive alongside an automobile that was parked in front of the next house. But I was anxious to be on my way and called to my escort to come along.
"Wait!" my mother fairly hissed.
And having the sort of mother who meant what she said, I waited.
"Get out of that car!" I heard one of the police call to the two young Negroes who were sitting in the parked auto.
"And get out with your hands in the air!" the other officer instructed, as he leaped from his car with drawn gun.
"You boys got corn [whiskey] in this car, and we're gonna find it tonight!" said Officer No. 1.
"Well," asked the second officer, "what you standing there like two dummies for? You have got whiskey, haven't you?"
"No, Sir!" the Negroes cried in unison, their arms stretched heavenward.
"Well, we'll see!" and the policemen began searching the car.
As we watched from the porch, it seemed to me that they were making that car into a swell job for some junk dealer. Cushions were thrown in the street. Tools were scattered about, and boards ripped from the floor. But this was all in vain, for the zealous officers found nothing that bore evidence of any violation of the law.
"Well," one of them admitted, as he pulled out a handkerchief and wiped the sweat from his brow, "we didn't get you tonight, but we'll catch you soon!"
The sight of the white men working so hard—and in vain—must have amused the smaller of the two Negroes (they called him "Shorty"), for he giggled.
"So it tickles you, eh?" said one of the officers. "Well, laugh this off!"
There was a succession of thuds, as the butt of the officer's service revolver cracked against the little Negro's skull again and again. Finally, his form lay crumpled on the asphalt street, as his friend stood helplessly by his black hands high above his head.
"I reckon this'll teach you not to be so smart next time," laughed the other fiend who wore a policeman's badge, as he walked over to the Negro's prostrate form and began kicking him. His laughter only increased as the Negro feebly groaned.
To me, it had all seemed like a page from some terrible story book. But that Negro's groan struck a note of reality.
"Why you dirty dog!" I screamed, "you're kicking a man who's flat on his back!"
Quickly a hand was clasped over my mouth. "You little simpleton,” my mother muttered, "don't you know that they can do the same thing to you, and I can't do a thing about it?"
In that moment, I fell heir to my heritage. I understood the whispers about the race riot. Again, I saw white robed figures and heard the clatter of horses' hooves, as an old Negro woman prayed and clutched a tiny baby to her breast. I understood why my father could not look me in the eye after the Ku Klux had passed by.
And, if that Negro who was kicked, at the point of a gun, as he lay flat on his back, is today a member of any organization pledged to overthrow the brand of order that allows such atrocities—who is to blame?
It is readily admitted that Shorty was no civic leader. I doubt if he was affiliated with any movement dedicated to human betterment. Yet he was a young man and might have been any number of things. Out of this same town came the Negro who, I am told, is the vice-president of the Communist Party in America. That is another example of the effect that unwarranted brutality has had upon many Negroes.