As indicated by the Negro Year Book's statistical tables (see #2: Lynching and Segregation), the threat of lynching for many African Americans—in both the North and the South—was a terrifying reality during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In response, a number of African American writers, particularly women, actively campaigned against "lynch law." While not as well known as Ida B. Wells-Barnett, the famous Memphis newspaperwoman whose editorials exposed the truth and frequency of lynching, Georgia Douglas Johnson (1880-1966), was perhaps the most prolific writer of plays that addressed this brutal theme. Despite writing at least six such plays, none was published or produced during her lifetime, certainly a provocative statement on their politically charged subject matter. Contemporary readers will note the plays' melodramatic plot lines. However, in campaigning against lynching, Johnson hoped not only to raise awareness about the blatant and recurring misapplication of justice but also to bring about the passage of laws against lynching. Whereas Johnson's earlier play, A Sunday Morning in the South, ends in tragedy, Blue-Eyed Black Boy closes with measured optimism. Both plays offer insight into the position of black women in America's segregated society and the real, if modest, power that position afforded them. (10 pages.)
- What similarities do these plays share? How are they different?
- How is the black home portrayed in these plays?
- How do the plays comment on the role of white women in maintaining white supremacy?
- How do the plays comment on the exploitation of black men? black women? white women?
- In both plays the mother appeals to a public official—in Sunday Morning in the South, indirectly to a judge, and in Blue-Eyed Black Boy to a governor. Why do these appeals come from women? What sort of leverage do the women wield with these officials? What does that leverage suggest about the resources and power available to blacks in negotiating relationships with whites at this time?
- What roles do prayer and song play in these dramas?
||What constitutes segregation?|
||How did African Americans experience it?|
||What is the difference between segregation and separation?|
||What are the consequences of segregation? Separation?||
|Sunday Morning: || 6
|Blue-Eyed Black Boy: || 4|
|TOTAL ||10 pages|
Georgia Douglas Johnson, in Modern American Poetry, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Georgia Douglas Johnson, in Women of Color, Women of Words, from Rutgers University-New Brunswick
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Image: Georgia Douglas Johnson, photograph published in R. T. Kerlin, Negro Poets and Their Poems, 1923. Reproduced by permission of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library.