Reading Richard Wright’s “Fire and Cloud” and “Bright and Morning Star,” I was struck by the negative portrayal of Christianity and the Church within both stories. The picture that Wright paints in these stories seems to be a reflection of his own life experiences. In “Bright and Morning Star” the protagonist, Sue, finds a new religion in the teachings of the communist party. The talk of her communist sons,
ripped from her startled eyes her old vision, and image by image had given her a new one, different but great and strong enough to fling her into the light of another grace. The wrongs, and sufferings of black men had taken the place of Him nailed to the Cross; the meager beginnings of the party had become another Resurrection, and the hate of those who would destroy her new faith had quickened in her a hunger to feel how deeply her new strength went.
Sue found that the “sufferings” of life could not be fixed by the Church and turns to the message of the communist party for answers. Her fictional experience mirrors the real life experience of Wright which he recounts in his autobiography:
Before I had been made to go to church, I had given God’s existence a sort of tacit assent, but after having seen His creatures serve Him at first hand, I had my doubts. My faith, such as it was, was welded to the common realities of life.
However, while Wright was obviously turned off by the Church and its teachings, his attitude seems out of touch with the message of the civil rights movement that would come later under Martin Luther King Jr.
King recognized the power of the Church community and preached a message that was rooted in biblical principles. “God grant that ministers, and lay leaders, and civic leaders, and businessmen, and professional people all over the nation will rise up and use the talent and the finances that God has given them, and lead the people on toward the Promised Land of freedom with rational, calm, nonviolent means.” Perhaps Wright and other black communists failed to recognize the real power of the Church as was vehicle for change in Jim Crow south. This leads me to question how much of Wright’s communist portrayal is indicative of the time, and how much of it is just an extension of his own beliefs.
Richard Wright, “Bright and Morning Star,” in Uncle Tom’s Children. (New York: Harperperenial, 1991), 225
Richard Wright, Black Boy. (New York: Literary Classics of America, 1991), 110.
Ebenezer Baptist Chuch, http://commons.wikimedia.org
Martin Luther King Jr. “A Realistic Look at the Question of Progress in the Area of Race Relations,” MLK online, http://www.mlkonline.net/progress.html