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Much of Marcus Christian’s poetry tells how it is to be black and oppressed, tells it sometimes with

biting, acid humor, sometimes with passionate anger. Though he won’t reveal his age—“in these

days of Negro militancy you do a man a disservice if you mention anything over 30”—he

was writing poems like “Wing-Shadows” long before the dawn of the civil rights movement.



Books by Marcus Bruce Christian

Song of the Black Valiants: Marching Tempo / High Ground: A Collection of Poems  / Negro soldiers in the Battle of New Orleans

 I Am New Orleans: A Poem / Negro Ironworkers of Louisiana, 1718–1900 The Liberty Monument

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Marcus Christian

Portrait of a Poet

By Betsy Petersen


So let us pause here

            to carve our records upon these rocks

            by the light of a hand-cupped candle

            held high in a hostile wind. . . .

                         Marcus Christian, "Hieroglyphs on Granite"


He rocked back and forth on his heels and toes, a small man with a big voice and the presence of a great conductor, as he recited the litany of insurrection: “The New Orleans Christmas Eve plot of 1835. The Alexandria plot of 1837. The Vermillionville plot of 1840. The plot of 1842 in Madison, Concordia and Carroll parishes. The Donaldsonville plot of 1843.

“This is another one of those lessons where you can use your own judgment about taking notes.” Marcus Christian told his students, “because frankly, you won’t find any of this on the exam.

Marcus Christian has just finished his first semester as special lecturer in English and history and writer-in-residence on the faculty of Louisiana State University in New Orleans; he taught History 195, The Negro in Louisiana, one of the first black studies” courses to be offered at LSUNO.

About 30 students were assembled in the small bright, austere classroom on this particular day, and about two-thirds of them were white. “I want you to understand,” Christian told them. “You can’t understand slavery unless you understand all these insurrections.”

From the flood of facts, vivid, terrible images emerged: of slaves in irons, “packed like sardines in the holds of the ships, getting free on their chains and coming up on deck and these fights breaking out”; of a rebellious slave, “sentenced to receive 350 lashes”—pause—“and to wear irons for two years”; of conspirators whose “heads were severed from their bodies and mounted in front of the churches in New Orleans.”

In a voice dripping with sarcasm he told of Celestin, a principal in one abortive insurrection: “Guide by natural sentiments of humanity, like a faithful slave, he revealed the plot to his master.” And, in response to the students’ rueful laughter, Christian said innocently, “I don’t know why you’re laughing.

“See, it pays sometimes; sometimes it pays to be an informer,” he continued. “The city council paid $2,000 for Celestin’s freedom.

“But after he was given his freedom he was put out,” he added. “I think the militant persons in here would like to hear that.”

The lecture was a race against the clock. One of the students was Christian’s appointed timekeeper, and occasionally he broke off to ask her, “How much time we got left, lady?” Not enough. He finished in a rush, quoting from memory in ringing, passionate tones the words of William Lloyd Garrison: “‘Let this covenant with death and agreement with hell be annulled . . . I will not equivocate; I will not excuse; I will not retreat a single inch, and I will be heard!’”

The classroom was quiet. “The gauntlet was down,” Christian said. “The Civil War began. Questions?”

“Were any of these insurrections successful?” a student asked. “Why, no,” Christian answered softly, “none were successful—because Mr. Abe Lincoln had to sent them free.”

Christian’s lectures are drawn from his mammoth unpublished book on the Negro in Louisiana, a four-inch thick bundle of onionskin manuscript he calls “the family Bible.” He started the book during the Depression, when he worked on the Federal Writers’ Project; in 1943, he received a Rosenwald Fellowship for further study in the field.

Articles and poems of his have appeared in Negro journal like Crisis, Opportunity and Phylon, and in general-circulations papers including The New York Herald-Tribune, the New Orleans States and the New Orleans Item. He has been a contributor to The Louisiana Weekly for years, and a series of articles in that newspaper spearheaded the assault of New Orleans Negroes on segregated public transportation here.

“Do you like to ride the bus?” he asked a visitor. “I do, too—especially now that we have desegregation.”

Books, manuscripts, tape recordings, clippings, mementoes, unbound books of poetry are crammed into every available space in Christian’s office, a back room in his friend *Carlton Pecot’s insurance agency on North Claiborne Avenue. His office at LSUNO, which he has occupied for just a few months, shows his unmistakable imprint, too, the mark of a man who is forever saying, “Here, I want to show you something,” and dragging yet another book or poem or scrapbook off the shelf to illustrate his point.

Christian served as university librarian at Dillard University in the 1940s and gave three lectures a year there during that time, but he has not been a student anywhere since his 13th year.

“I got all my degrees in my father’s primary school,” he said. Emmanuel Banks Christian was the village school master in Mechanicsville, La., now part of Houma; said his son, “I was very fortunate to have the father I had.”

It was his father who introduced him to poetry:

My little twin sister and I, we’d get up there on his lap and he’d put one of us on each knee, “we’d say, ‘Look what funny noises Papa makes in his throat.’

“My first poetry was ordinary American poetry that you get in books,” Christian said. “Longfellow, Stevenson, Whittier. But we didn’t learn Whittier’s abolitionist poetry. He was the official poet of the abolitionists, but they didn’t tell you that in school.

I declare, they had some of the most sainted men in that abolitionist movement. You know, half of them were not interested in furthering the Negro’s cause, but they were thrown into it, they were sucked in, it was like a vortex: Suddenly you are sucked into the thing, and that settles it, and when you get into it, if you’re any sort of man, you stand up and say, ‘Okay, there now, this is mine.’

Elijah Lovejoy, he was held up to the people in Ohio where he was killed, he told them he couldn’t do anything. He said, ‘God has put my hand to the plow and it’s no use saying turn back. I cannot help myself, I have set my hand to this, even if it means my death. . . .

“And it did mean his death,” Christian said, his voice dropping to a whisper.

Much of Marcus Christian’s poetry tells how it is to be black and oppressed, tells it sometimes with biting, acid humor, sometimes with passionate anger. Though he won’t reveal his age—“in these days of Negro militancy you do a man a disservice if you mention anything over 30”—he was writing poems like “Wing-Shadows” long before the dawn of the civil rights movement. That poem, a rather long one, uses as a metaphor for slavery a huge eagle who was slain by the Civil War but whose corpse continues to smother black Americans:

Beneath these wings my heart, with one accord,

Keeps the Commandments of the Lord

Of Earth, who says,

Passing me by through all the endless days:

“Good Nigger!”

“But some day, In some way, By a twist of fate,” the poem goes on, “I may become the target of the Great . . .” And then,

. . .  goaded to frenzy by the lash,

Like some beast maddened,

Through the earth I’ll crash,

Keeping some half-crazed vow;

My hand against all men

            —my life at stake—

The mark of Cain and Ishmael on my brow—

Dark laughter in my throat

            and red death in my wake!

“I was showing the line that’s drawn between the Negro who’s good and the Negro who’s bad,” Christian said.

You hardly know what time you’re going to end up on the bad side, there’s such a thin dividing line. I can go out of here right now and something’ll happen out there and I’ll get in a quarrel and the first thing you know I’m it.

Well, in that situation the average Negro figures, ‘I’ve got to sell my life and I might just as well sell it as dearly as possible.’ He on the warpath, to kill just because he’s going to be killed, so he says, ‘I’ll just take as many whites with me as I can.’

"Some young blacks like this poem," Christian said with a touch of scorn, because it sounds militant.

Some of these militants are saying, ‘What did you do? You’ve been writing poetry and writing articles all these years, well what did you ever do? One Watts will do more than you ever did.’

“Well does one Watts really do more?” Christian said softly. And then, his voice growing louder.

 I’m willing to bet you that those people who burned down Watts, in one way or another they’re going to pay for it. The Negro’s going to pay for it, he’s going to pay in some way.

“There’s one thing the black militants might just as well realize, and that’s this, there are still more whites in America than there are Negroes, and there’ll be a good while.

“Unless you steal upon the people and make revolution, you’re not going to make it,” he continued.

And a minority can hardly make revolution unless it’s very well planned, and we never could plan it. Because, as I’ve told you about the slave insurrection; by the time you get together an insurrection somebody comes in and tells. It’s somebody who likes white people well enough, white people been kind to him. You can’t blame him, he’s just doing what the other man’s doing, looking out for number one.

“The type of revolution the black militants are preaching just won’t happen,” he said. “But there is a revolution, there has already been a revolution in this country. There’s a great revolution,” he said to his visitor, “because right now, lady, you sitting here talking with me alone would be enough to send all the police in town round here. I’m showing you there’s already been a revolution in so many ways, and it will go on, and it will go on gradually.”

Now History 195, a product of the gradual revolution, is over, and Marcus Christian is preparing for his poetry course (English 63, Section I, Introduction to Creative Writing), which will begin Feb. 2. “I’m doing fine in history,” he said, “but I’m telling the students to get set: “When I get in poetry, I’m going to be wild, man, wild!”

Source: DIXIE  18• January 19, 1970

*In 1950 Carlton Pecot and another black man became New Orleans policemen....Mayor Morrison and his subordinates placed the new black patrolmen carefully....They assigned the new men to the juvenile bureau...dressed them in plain clothes, and tucked them away in a predominantly black district where very few white voters dared to venture. This cautious manipulation worked superbly. They were hardly noticed." [Edward F. Haas. DeLesseps S. Morrison and the Image of Reform, 1946-1961 (Baton Rouge, 1974), 77-78]Nutrias

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Marcus Bruce Christian

Selected Diary Notes / Selected Poems  / Selected Letters

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Profiles on Marcus Bruce Christian and the Federal Writers Project

Bryan, Violet Harrington. The Myth of New Orleans in Literature. Knoxville: University of Tennessee, 1993.

Clayton, Ronnie W. “The Federal Writers Project for Blacks in Louisiana.” Louisiana History 19(1978): 327-335.

Dent, Tom. “Marcus B. Christian: A Reminiscence and an Appreciation.Black American Literature Forum, 1984, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp. 22-26.

Hessler, Marilyn S. “Marcus Christian: The Man and His Collection.” Louisiana History 1 (1987):37-55.

Johnson, Jerah. “Marcus B. Christian and the WPA History of Black People in Louisiana.” Louisiana History 20.1 (1979): 113-115.

Larson, Susan. “Poems in the Key of Life.” Times-Picayune (Book Section), July 4, 1999.

Lewis, Rudolph. “Introduction.” I Am New Orleans and Other Poems by Marcus Bruce Christian. Edited by Rudolph Lewis and Amin Sharif. New Orleans: Xavier Review Press, 1999. Reprinted in revised form in Dillard Today 2.3 (2000): 21-24.

Lewis, Rudolph. “Magpies, Goddesses, & Black Male Identity in the Romantic Poetry of Marcus Bruce Christian.” Paper presented at College Language Association, April 2000, Baltimore, MD.

Lewis, Rudolph. “Marcus Bruce Christian and a Theory of a Black Aesthetic.” Paper presented at the Zora Neale Hurston Society Conference held June 1999 at University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Published in ZNHS FORUM (Spring 2000).

Peterson, Betsy. “Marcus Christian: Portrait of a Poet.” Dixie 18 (January 1970).

Redding, Joan. “The Dillard Project: The Black Unit of the Louisiana Writers’ Project.” Louisiana History 32.1 (1991): 47-62

Source: Wikipedia

posted 31 January 2011 

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Southern Journey

A Return to the Civil Rights Movement

By Tom Dent

A black youth reared in segregated New Orleans, Dent went to Mississippi for the civil rights movement, and that experience stuck with him. So in 1991, he decided to work his way south from Greensboro, N.C., to Mississippi, skirting both large cities and important officials, to talk to (mostly) black folk and to assess the movement's legacy. At times, Dent's meandering approach lacks depth and is unwieldy, but his personal connection to his inquiry informs his story with commitment. In Greensboro, the unresolved gap between blacks and whites, exemplified in an anniversary celebration of the city's historic sit-ins, remind Dent "of the strained interracial meetings of the 1950s."

In Orangeburg, S.C., a black academic tells him ruefully that many social-work students go into "criminal justice" lacking the broader awareness of the politics behind the new programs. In Albany, Ga., Dent discerns signs of material progress but deep divisions not only between the races but also within the black community. In Mississippi, where he sees black political victories as having had a relatively small payoff, he becomes convinced that a new black organization is needed to supplant the NAACP to address national political issues of special concern to blacks (education, unemployment) and to monitor cases of police and official abuse and discrimination. Though not quite a complete plan, it's a constructive response to Dent's conclusion that the civil rights movement opened up doors, but "once inside, well, there was hardly anything there."—Publishers Weekly

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Allah, Liberty, and Love

The Courage to Reconcile Faith and Freedom

By Irshad Manji

In Allah, Liberty and Love, Irshad Manji paves a path for Muslims and non-Muslims to transcend the fears that stop so many of us from living with honest-to-God integrity: the fear of offending others in a multicultural world as well as the fear of questioning our own communities. Since publishing her international bestseller, The Trouble with Islam Today, Manji has moved from anger to aspiration. She shows how any of us can reconcile faith with freedom and thus discover the Allah of liberty and love—the universal God that loves us enough to give us choices and the capacity to make them. Among the most visible Muslim reformers of our era, Manji draws on her experience in the trenches to share stories that are deeply poignant, frequently funny and always revealing about these morally confused times. What prevents young Muslims, even in the West, from expressing their need for religious reinterpretation? What scares non-Muslims about openly supporting liberal voices within Islam?

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.


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Weep Not, Child

By Ngugi wa Thiong'o

This is a powerful, moving story that details the effects of the infamous Mau Mau war, the African nationalist revolt against colonial oppression in Kenya, on the lives of ordinary men and women, and on one family in particular. Two brothers, Njoroge and Kamau, stand on a rubbish heap and look into their futures. Njoroge is excited; his family has decided that he will attend school, while Kamau will train to be a carpenter. Together they will serve their countrythe teacher and the craftsman. But this is Kenya and the times are against them. In the forests, the Mau Mau is waging war against the white government, and the two brothers and their family need to decide where their loyalties lie. For the practical Kamau the choice is simple, but for Njoroge the scholar, the dream of progress through learning is a hard one to give up.—Penguin 

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Predator Nation

Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hijacking of America

By Charles H. Ferguson

If you’re smart and a hard worker, but your parents aren’t rich, you’re now better off being born in Munich, Germany or in Singapore than in Cleveland, Ohio or New York. This radical shift did not happen by accident.  Ferguson shows how, since the Reagan administration in the 1980s, both major political parties have become captives of the moneyed elite.  It was the Clinton administration that dismantled the regulatory controls that protected the average citizen from avaricious financiers.  It was the Bush team that destroyed the federal revenue base with its grotesquely skewed tax cuts for the rich. And it is the Obama White House that has allowed financial criminals to continue to operate unchecked, even after supposed “reforms” installed after the collapse of 2008. Predator Nation reveals how once-revered figures like Alan Greenspan and Larry Summers became mere courtiers to the elite.

Based on many newly released court filings, it details the extent of the crimes—there is no other word—committed in the frenzied chase for wealth that caused the financial crisis.  And, finally, it lays out a plan of action for how we might take back our country and the American dream.Read Chapter 1

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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update 31 May 2012




Home    Literary New Orleans  Marcus Bruce Christian   I Am New Orleans Table  Selected Diary Notes   Selected Letters

Related files:  A Black Aesthetic   Magpies & Godesses   Intro to I Am New Orleans   Tom Dent on Marcus B. Christian   The Federal Writers Project For Blacks

Marcus Christian: Portrait of a Poet  Marcus Christian: The Man and His Collection  Marcus B. Christian and the WPA (Johnson)