African Americans on the Western Frontier

Black people in the American West made significant contributions to frontier history as shown in “The African-American West: A Century of Short Stories,” a collection of fiction covering 100 years.
W.E.B. DuBois (1868-1963)
W.E.B. DuBois (1868-1963)
May 7, 2011 - PRLog -- "The African-American West: A Century of Short Stories," edited by Bruce Glasrud and Laurie Champion, is a collection of short fiction showing black contributions to the evolution of culture on the Western Frontier.

Bruce Glasrud, specialist in the history of blacks in Texas and the American West, and Laurie Champion, specialist in modern, historical and women's fiction, compiled stories of African Americans in frontier politics, law, business, education, religion and music by W.E.B. DuBois, Rita Dove, Reginald McKnight, Terry McMillan, Ralph Ellison, Sunny Nash, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Walter Mosley and others.

In addition to writing short fiction, these authors have literary reputations in poetry, novels, history, philosophy, sociology and scholarly research, such as Rita Dove, 1993-95 Poet Laureate and Library of Congress Consultant, and W.E.B. DuBois, sociologist, historian and social activist. About his 1903 groundbreaking study, "The Souls of Black Folk," DuBois said, "the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line." Six years later, he co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which, in 1906, was still the Niagra Movement at Harpers Ferry, becoming the NAACP in 1909. Middle-class black, brown, Jewish and progressive white Americans pushed for racial equality using NAACP magazine, 'Crisis,' which DuBois edited from 1910 to 1934.

W.E.B. DuBois photograph: Special Collections & University Archives, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Glasrud and Champion included DuBois' frontier story, "Jesus Christ in Texas," about a Waco, Texas, black man accused of attacking a white woman and being lynched by a mob. The fictionalized lynching is reminiscent of a factual 1916 Waco lynching of 17-year-old Jesse Washington on the same charge.

Photos of the youth's body appeared on a postcard, signed by one of the lynch mob: "This is the barbecue we had last night...Your son, Joe." For photographs, videos and accounts of frontier lynching, follow link:

Excerpt: "Jesus Christ in Texas" by W.E.B. DuBois from storties of the 1920s
       She rang and switched on a blaze of light. With one accord they looked at the stranger, for they had hardly seen him well in the glooming twilight. The woman stared in amazement and the colonel half rose in anger. Why, the man was a mulatto, surely; even if he did not own the Negro blood, their practiced eyes knew it. He was tall and straight and the coat looked like a Jewish gabardine. His hair hung in close curls close down the sides of his face and his face was olive, even yellow. A peremptory order rose to the colone’s lips and froze there as he caught the stranger’s eyes. Those eyes—where had he seen those eyes before. He remembered them long years ago. The soft, tear-filled eyes of a brown girl. He remembered many things, and his face grew drawn and white. Those eyes kept burning into him, even when they were turned away toward the staircase, where the white figure of the child hovered with her nurse and waved good-night. The lady sank into her chair and thought: “What will the judge’s wife say? How did the colonel come to invite this man here? How shall we be rid of him? She looked at the colonel in reproachful consternation.
       Just then the door opened and the old butler came in. He was an ancient black man, with tufted white hair, and he held before him a large silver tray filled with a China tea service. The stranger rose slowly and stretched forth his hands as if to bless the viands. The old man paused in bewilderment, tottered, and then with sudden gladness in his eyes dropped to his knees, and the tray crashed to the floor.
       “My Lord and my God!” he whispered; but the woman screamed; “Mother’s China!”
       The doorbell rang.
       “Heavens! here is the dinner party!” the lady exclaimed. She turned toward the door, but there in the hall, clad in her nightclothes, was the little girl. She had stolen down the stairs to see the stranger again...

The dust jacket of “The African American West:” Ranging from late nineteenth-century writers such as Charles Chestnut to contemporary authors, this one-of-a-kind anthology sheds needed light on a neglected body of literature. Gathered here are a century's worth of African American short stories, told from the point of view of a black person or featuring a black person as a major character and set in the American West. The 46 stories range widely in settings within that vast chunk of American real estate called the West; and not suggesting these gems of fiction were meant as sociological tracks, each one nonetheless contributes in its own fashion to a greater understanding of the history of the black presence in the West.

Sunny Nash’s short story, “Amen,” is about a small child, who discovers trickery of traveling frontier revival preachers and her neighbors' participation, in that everyone is aware of these duplicitous events, designed for the entertainment of isolated frontier communities and to enrich the collection plate of the preacher.

Excerpt: "Amen" by Sunny Nash from stories of the 1990s
       Preaching drifted on warm puffs of darkened air from the abandoned rent house where Old Otto and some other bums hung out days and spent nights before the owner chased them away.
      "Della, are they calling this shack a church?"
       Della stopped in the middle of the road, lifted her open palms toward the heavens and moaned, "Lord, Lord! Why me, Lord?"
        "Della, I'm not going into that shack if they're calling it a church!"
        "It ain't a church, Lacy!" Della exploded.
        "Because I hate church."
        Studying Della's outline against the moonlight, I stopped and looked up, too, trying to see what Della was looking at. "I'll go in if Old Otto is singing," I said.
       Della picked up her dress tail, wiped moisture from her face and patted her frizzy hair. "Come on, Lacy," she said, grabbing my hand and dragging me toward the building.
       "Yawl need faith!" Yelled six-foot-six, over-weight, reverend-doctor-faith-healer, Melroy Magruder. Prancing around like a trained circus elephant, the healer's robe--over a high white collar and dark suit--flowed behind him. "Faith!" yelled the healer.
        "Amen!" Shouted a sweaty woman, fanning like crazy with frayed pages of "The Houston Informer."...

In "The African American West," fictional characters represent real people in the memories of authors and demonstrate every aspect of life in the history of the American West. Authors in this collection, Including Charles W. Chesnutt, Frank Yerby and Langston Hughes, have a wide range of career achievements, historical and modern.

Excerpt: "The Gun" by Langston Hughes from stories of the 1930s
Picture yourself a lone bird in a cage with monkeys, or the sole cat in a kennel full of dogs. Even if the dogs became accustomed to you, they wouldn’t make the best of playmates; nor could you, being a cat, mate with them, being dogs. Although, in the little town of Fall Rock, Montana, the barriers were less natural than artificial (entirely man-made barriers, in fact), nevertheless, to be the only Negro child in this small white city made you a stranger in a strange world; an outcast in the house where you lived; a part of it all by necessity, and yet no part at all...

Brad Hooper Booklist, The Magazine, New York Times: The acquisitions bible for public and school librarians nationwide, the American Library Association Review Journal, which recommends works of fiction, nonfiction, children's books, reference books and media to its 30,000 institutional and personal clients, recommends “The African-American West.”

© 2011 Sunny Nash. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Terms for Use - Provide Link:

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About Sunny Nash: The author of "Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s," chosen by the Association of American University Presses as essential for understanding race relations in the United States, listed in the Bibliographic Guide to Black Studies by the Schomburg Center in New York and recommended for Native American collections by the Miami-Dade Public Library System in Florida. Nash has work in the African American National Biography by Harvard and Oxford; African American West, Century of Short Stories; Reflections in Black, History of Black Photographers 1840 - Present; Ancestry; Companion to Southern Literature; Texas Through Women’s Eyes; Black Genesis; African American Foodways; Southwestern American Literature; The Source: guidebook to American genealogy; Interdisciplinary Journal for Germanic Linguistics; Ebony Magazine; Hidden Sources: Family History in Unlikely Places; and others.
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