Originally published at Red Wedge.
By Joseph Ramsey
Brian Dolinar opens The Black Cultural Front: Black Writers and Artists of the Depression Generation (University Press of Mississippi, 2012) by quoting not from a major artist or critic, but from a virtually forgotten participant in a long-dismembered radical organization, an audience member at a panel about “Culture” held by the National Negro Congress of 1940. During the lively discussion that followed the official presentations, a woman identified in the proceedings only as “Mrs. Lynch” spoke up, reminding the room that the cultural front mattered because “it is the cultural things that keep us from going stark crazy” (3).
It’s a poignant opening, and one that indicates Dolinar’s anti-elitist approach. To be sure, The Black Cultural Front is a study concerned with interpreting the work of three important writers and artists, figures who were swept up and shaped by the mid-20th century movement for social justice — Langston Hughes, Chester Himes, and Oliver Harrington. But it is also a book committed to presenting mid-20th century Black Left culture more broadly as a “down to earth” matter, a matter of sustaining organizations and struggles, a pragmatic practice of engaging everyday people, of helping them to survive in dangerous and shifting circumstances. Dolinar is well aware that without the “Mrs. Lynches” of the world — the “no name” participants, so often lost to official history — there are no social movements to speak of (let alone writers or artists or critics to represent them)....