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The contributions of Richard Wright and Gwendolyn Brooks to the civil rights movement Essay


For the longest time in the history of the American society, black people faced severe discrimination from the white community. They were denied of their basic rights and they faced segregation, marginalization, maltreatment as well as poor working conditions.

Other than these, slave trade which involved the dehumanizing sale of African Americans thrived and black men were also denied the right to vote. This provoked a fight for civil rights through the Civil Rights Movement which fought for the African Americans rights a ccording toFinlayson (11).

This essay delves deeply into the contributions of Richard Wright and Gwendolyn Brooks to the Civil Rights Movement which played a great role in redeeming the black people from this discrimination.

However, on the ground this was not the case as the African Americans were segregated, marginalized, maltreated, and subjected to poor working conditions. They also lacked opportunities and access to public amenities according to Levy (7-10).

This saw the blacks come together in churches through song, literature, businesses, homes, families, poems and books all with the goal to fight against discrimination by the whites.

Among these were Richard Wright and Gwendolyn Brooks who used literary works to voice out their displeasure on the discrimination against blacks as well as portray a humanitarian point of view on the plight of the African Americans in the 20th century (Marshall Cavendish Corporation 4).

Richard Wright was among the young Americans born in the period when segregation and discrimination was at its peak. During this period, blacks were not supposed to contradict a white person but take in the segregation happily, cheerfully and humbly (Rowley 5).

Wright’s father abandoned their family when he was young and went to a segregated high school and was deeply hurt by the poor conditions that African Americans were living in. He published his first short story in 1924 and during the great depression; he did a variety of jobs and joined the communist party.

He also wrote articles for the Daily Worker. He later moved to New York where he wrote a collection known as “Uncle Tom’s Children” which won him an award whose money he used to finish his famous book, “The Native Son” (Williams and Beard 358).

Wright’s writing was mainly influenced by the prejudice and suffering he saw the black people go through as well as his own personal life. He was very outspoken on the injustices of racism and discrimination.

His first book “Tom’s children” was soft and brought many to tears. To him however this was a failure in conveying his message as he wanted his audience to be shocked by the realities of racism which he was able to do in “The Native Son”.

The book “Native Son” brought about racism in a very harsh and unmasked manner especially in the last chapter, “the trial”. It is the story of a man who kills two women; a white woman by accident and his black girlfriend purposely out of frustration and anger.

He is caught and taken to trial but he is only convicted of one murder; that of the white girl which he committed accidentally. The murder of his black girlfriend is completely ignored and went unpunished showing the white community’s extent of their racism (Fraile 151).

In the “Native Son”, Wright relies on naturalism and symbolism to bring out his key themes which include injustice, racism, violence and oppression. The bigger one is the representative of America’s racial hatred.

The names of the characters also hint at the themes, for example, “Mr. Max” to represent Marxism and Clara “Mears” to mean a merely exploited black woman (Nelson 500).

Wright also brings light to how discrimination affects black men as providers in their families in his play “Man of all work”. The play also reflects his experience with his father who was not willing to work hard to provide for the needs of their family.

In this play, he uses symbolism and irony to show how black men are forced to do all sorts of work sometimes even having to pretend to be women to provide for their families. In another play called “Man ain’t God like that”, Wright explores western cultural imperialism.

It also explores the effects of merging Christianity with traditional African beliefs. Also in this play, he uses irony to hold the story and bring out its themes (Nelson 498-500).

The other significant writer into the fight for civil rights is Gwendolyn Brooks. Gwendolyn Brooks unlike Richard Wright was a poet cum reporter and thus used poetry in her contributions to the fight for civil rights.

Brooks had an eye for the discrimination of the blacks and their oppression by the white people. She saw a world filled with poverty, violence and loyalty. In the midst of this was humanity with a strong prideful persistence that was indifferent to oppression of that other group which surrounded and threatened it.

Her poetry therefore not only represented this bleak world but also her personality as a strong black woman. Her books include, “A Street in Bronzeville” which portrays the frustration of a World War 2 veteran with American racism and the “Maud Martha”.

Among her famous poems is “Annie Allen” a poem on the life of the black woman, “The Bean eaters” which talks about the civil rights movement and “In the Mecca”, a poem on the Black Nationalism.

Other literary works include “Man of the middle class”, “The Chicago defender” and “The loveliest lyncher is the Lord” which tries to understand and represent the ordinariness of white life (Wright 36).

In her poems, Brooks employs various styles to bring out her themes. In her poem “Annie Allen” for example, Brooks employs a realistic tone. Her tone evokes bitterness without invoking any tendencies towards violence or separatism.

The poem follows Annie through different stages that open her eyes to the various realities of life around her. Annie starts her quest in childhood where she desires to break from the norms of her mother in the notes of childhood and girlhood.

She is then exposed to the realities of marriage and love in the “Anniad” and finally chooses her identity in the womanhood. The poem strives to bring out the theme of equality and the demolishing of all forms of racial discrimination.

She uses stylistic devices such as a contrast milk- glass, fruit -bowl, jelly- jar, and old peach cans to show different worlds. Also, the juxtaposition between dreams and reality, rhyming couplets, similes such as like a candle and set against the weeds of disappointment among others (Saber 36).

In conclusion, both writers made significant contributions to the fight for civil rights. Through their literary works, they were able to bring out the intricacies and suffering that came with racial discrimination.

Their blunt depiction of the lives of the African Americans in the 20th century forced the white people to view their actions as they were. This awakened them from their ignorance and showed the world as a whole the plight of the African Americans.

Works Cited

Finlayson, Reggie. We shall overcome: The history of the American civil rights movement. USA: Twentieth Century Books, 2003. Print.

Fraile, Ana. Richard wrights Native son. London: Rodopi International, 2007. Print.

Levy, Peter. The civil rights movement. USA: Green Wood Publishing, 1998. Print.

Marshall Cavendish Corporation. America in the 20th century. USA: Marshall Cavendish, 2003. Print.

Nelson, Emmanuel. African American Dramatists. UK: ABC-CLIO, 2004. Print.

Rowley, Hazel. Richard Wright: The life and times. USA: University of Chicago Press, 2008. Print.

Saber, Yomna. “Brave to be involved: shifting positions in the poetry of Gwendolyn Books.” Peter Lang Journal (2010): 5-9. Print.

Williams, Horace and Ben, Beard. This Day In civil rights history. USA: Newsouth Books, 2009. Print.

Wright, Stephen. On Gwendolyn Brooks: Reliant contemplation. USA: University of Michigan Press, 2001. Print.

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"The contributions of Richard Wright and Gwendolyn Brooks to the civil rights movement." IvyPanda, 11 Apr. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/the-contributions-of-richard-wright-and-gwendolyn-brooks-to-the-civil-rights-movement/.

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IvyPanda. "The contributions of Richard Wright and Gwendolyn Brooks to the civil rights movement." April 11, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-contributions-of-richard-wright-and-gwendolyn-brooks-to-the-civil-rights-movement/.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "The contributions of Richard Wright and Gwendolyn Brooks to the civil rights movement." April 11, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-contributions-of-richard-wright-and-gwendolyn-brooks-to-the-civil-rights-movement/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'The contributions of Richard Wright and Gwendolyn Brooks to the civil rights movement'. 11 April.

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