Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Ralph Ellison & black preachers

Many veterans of the black left of the 1940s were taken by surprise by the upsurge of civil rights activism in the mid-'50s.

Here's a hilarious example from Ralph Ellison. The Montgomery Bus Boycott brought Martin Luther King Jr. to the fore. Ellison was ambivalent. He was proud of the leadership shown by black ministers, but he was also rather cynical, referring to them as:
" . . .the old steady, mush-mouthed chicken hawk variety, real wrinkle headed bible pounders [who had just] caught some son of a bitch not only stealing the money, but sleeping with all their own private sisters!"
Nevertheless, Ellison was pleased with their success:
"I'm supposed to know Negroes, being one myself, but these moses [slang for black men--RD] are revealing just a little bit more of their complexity. Leader is a young cat [who is] not only a preacher but a lawyer too, probably also a[n] undertaker and an atomic scientist. And they're standing their ground in spite of threats, assassinations, economic reprisal, & destruction of property."
SOURCE: Rampersad, Arnold. Ralph Ellison: A Biography (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007), p. 324.

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