tv Lawrence Jackson Chester B. Himes CSPAN September 9, 2018 10:00pm-10:53pm EDT
our cochairman of the festival, david rubenstein and other sponsors of this event and wanted to point out that if you are also interested in supporting the festival, you can look in your program for information about doing that. also, we are very fortunate that today professor jackson has agreed to take some questions. so after his presentation you would like to ask him about this very interesting work of his, please come to the microphones and smile pretty because i'm told that it may be appearing later on videos or on television. it's my pleasure to introduce you to lawrence p. jackson, prolific author and professor. he has produced an interesting biography of an author should all know about named chester
himes. professor jackson knows a bit about well-known authors in the united states. he also is the author of a biography of ralph tillerson. and myself as a person born in spain i was interested to learn that he spent a good deal of time in spain and the city of alicante, just one of the many surprises you will find in this very interesting work. so with no further ado, i will hand the stage to professor jackson and i think you will look forward to hearing about this book that has really shined a light on a very interesting figure in american letters. professor jackson. [applause] >> good afternoon, everyone. can you hear me? thank you so much for coming. i really appreciate it.
i brought my book, the other books i've written before because yesterday i realized no one knew who chester himes was never pretty sure they didn't know who professor jackson was either. you have come to the national book festival and unfortunately you're going to get something of an academic lecture. please bear with me because i have a number of slides that i think are fascinating. i will go through that very rapidly so we can have time for a dialogue and i. we look forward to hearing from your question. so i started work on this project from the biography of "chester b. himes" complete unknown of the famous african-american writers to richard wright, ralph ellison, james baldwin and chester himes. as for collecting research in 2003 has been an amazing journey. so chester himes was born in jefferson city, missouri and his
claim to fame was that he came from what amounted to an upper-middle-class african-american family. you can see chester with his older brothers in the two brothers, chester and joseph hines junior. they were only separated by 18 months, so they grew up in close companionship. at lincoln university and if you've just come from the wrong turnout lecture was founded by members of the united states colored troops bring african-american soldiers at the end of the civil war founded a college in missouri and was explicitly designed to cater to the needs of free people. as we were talking yesterday, talking about the crisis of functional illiteracy in the united states in the connection between illiteracy or income
inequality. this is on the agenda of african-american soldiers at the end of the civil war. so he's the blacksmith and start during the center of this photograph, sort of the small man with the apron in the back. he designs things for his family. he was sort of the apple of his children died. but things were not always easy in their household and the left wing and after sort of the booker t. washington machine anything, you know, decided that maybe he was a little bit too radical and they went to mississippi. of course, they are going there about nine and 13. so also at the time that his expertise in blacksmithing was becoming absolutely outmoded. i was day he went someplace for the 19th century was not more surer footing.
so they went to mississippi. so chester's mother was an accomplished an extremely well-educated african-american woman named estelle ballmer hyams. i know you can't see his dad do well in the picture that he was a dark brown african-american man and his mother was very, we used to use the euphemism fair skinned, very light complexion african-american woman who sometimes chose to pass for white to avail herself of services like the dentist in mississippi that were unavailable to african-americans she very strongly chased against the restrictions of racial segregation. chester himes said to his mother more or less accepted the second-class citizenship in some believe there's only citizenship or not, but nonetheless, that he
accepted the role of subservience you had to play for survival and that his mother absolutely reject it it and that the two parents when he was a child, he began to be really drawn towards his mother's point of view. however, he created a great deal of friction inside their home and they moved again to pine bluff arkansas to another african-american normal school, which is today a branch at the university of arkansas and in 1924, chester himes brother was very, very badly injured in a chemistry experience gone awry. his brother was only 18 months older, wound up losing his sight. family moved to st. louis to go to the hospital that was available to african-americans for really complicated surgical
operations. the barnes hospital in st. louis. they bought a house not far from sumner high school or chester himes would go to school. as you can see from this pattern are relatively come he was moving around quite a bit as a young person is becoming a little bit on board. the family had two branches in one of the branches of the family had moved to cleveland, ohio where there is a great deal of opportunity for african-americans in the early 19 tens and 1920s. roddy and ella and leo moon. a paterfamilias kind of the guy and one of the founders of the naacp in cleveland. he had a federal government job as a meat inspector and he let everybody know that he wasn't going to accept second-class citizenship. they also moved beyond the bounds of segregated cleveland
and into sort of an early version of an affluent neighborhood. after his sight was completely lost, the family relocated again to cleveland to this house on everton avenue. as they went through the sides quite quickly, you know by the time you get to sort of the mid-1920s, cleveland is the sixth largest metropolis in the united states. it was big city. chester himes grew up in a small country towns, you know, not so far from vicksburg and mississippi. he's lived for a little while in augusta georgia. st. louis was a big city, but maybe a smaller neighborhood and heavily industrialized cleveland his family bought a house in a jewish neighborhood in many of the northeastern and midwestern cities as a pattern of migration. african-americans followed jewish americans into somewhat suburban neighborhoods often
peered himes graduated from high school, one of the few black students at an integrated high school in the jewish neighborhood in cleveland. it's worthwhile to remember that links he is also housed sort of a similar academic career finish is a few years older than chester himes. in the summer of 1926, chester himes graduated from high school in january and he's working at this very posh hotel in african-americans had all the service jobs, the busboys, the custodial staff and one day he was flirting with two young white women and i mention this because it's going to wind up coming up again and again in the work and life of chester himes, interracial desire. he was flirting many steps backwards to the elevator doors and the doors open, but the elevator car had passed to the
next floor. see free fell about 20 feet and he hit the bottom of the elevator shaft. he broke several of his vertebrae, broke his wrist in half, chipped his teeth, broke his jaw. i think he ruptured his spleen. it was incredible that he survived. he was rushed to a hospital and he was put in a body cast and they had to convalesce for a period of about 10 weeks. during this period of convalesce and on the hospital ward, he's surrounded by people who died. one person from blood poisoning. another person from a sudden heart attack and he also started to receive very powerful opiates to reduce the pain. himes then matriculate to ohio
state university. he again is about four years ahead of someone like jesse owens. ohio state, the state of ohio if you graduated from one of the high schools, you can sort of make your way into the freshman class and they did not our african-americans. but they did was prevented you from participating in the fullness of college life. you could live in the dormitories. they only had dormitories for men at the time. you couldn't turn the social clubs are eating clubs. your social existence was completely separated. it was sort of during this moment the chester himes really began a lifelong rebellion and also an incredible sense of criticism and circumspection about the african-american middle class and they are sort of some really remarkable
stories that come about helping us understand the resilience of black social life than it teamed teams in the 1920s like the founding of the famous black fraternities and sororities. some of us think the most famous were founded in may 1011 and have the colors crimson and cream, but there are others. chester himes coming in though, was striving to belong to one of the others sounded at cornell. also sigh at indiana university. also founded and made to 11 at howard university. and so he was sort of in this group of blacks drivers. the first african-american congressmen in the 20th century representing chicago is one of the classmate me thinking i'm going to be about terror, but as i said, chester really started dealing with some rebellion and rebelliousness and
also, he's still sort of getting his pain medication said he received a compensatory siphon from the ohio industrial commission. so he was also like a super wealthy freshman in college. this is at the same moment that josephine baker and ethel waters are wowing and tantalizing audiences with this new music and these new dances in the strong sexuality of the 1920s also was right there for chester. it's a great picture. this is -- this is the earliest picture where you have a close-up of his face. this is chester about 17, 18. nice-looking young man. he flunked out of school and returns to cleveland for his
parents have divorced. they've sold the elegant home in the jewish neighborhood. they are constantly bickering over what the child support payments should be. his father who had been an esteemed professor is now custodian at a nightclub. the portion of cleveland that chester would know best, you have a series of hours, balloons, gambling dens and, really very close to where the african-american middle class would have been if you were in the segregated neighborhood. i want to say so to the environment told him in. chester started frequenting, especially gambling club and he became good of black jack and he became good at and he started to gain a reputation. soon enough, chester was part of
body syndicate, but a part of a crew of robbers then they decided to steal pistols from the ymca. why they store pistols at the ymca i can't tell you. they drove the youngstown to sell the pistols. he was arrested and he goes to trial with short pants on and the judge said that the disk clean cut young guy. he never would have done anything this dastardly or what have you. he was paroled to the care of his parents. his mother and father were fighting about how he should be disciplined and in the late fall thanksgiving of 1928, chester decided after getting a tip about some money and jewels at
the home of mr. and mrs. miller that he would try a robbery and he conducts a home invasion. he waits for them in the garage. he forces the way in and steal some money individuals and make us to chicago where he was arrested and brought back to cleveland. he has made and and he received a lot of support from his family when he had these other -- i wouldn't say criminal second allows, but were all of the stolen items were returned and he promised never to do it again. chester went before a judge, one of the rulings i did notice was upholding racial segregation in housing in 1928 in cleveland. but it does before judge
mcmahon shortly after, right around christmas 1928 and a judge thursday book at him. if you look at the ledger of who came before him on that day, chester pitts basically as much time behind bars as everybody else combined. so before he was 20, before he had graduated from college. he never returned to college. he was an inmate at the ohio state penitentiary. the president in the 1920s is somewhat similar, more or less similar to prison today with perhaps two exceptions. it was designed to break the will of encourage adult men. one of the things the guards did that was they used fairly vigorous corporal punishment that would have been a steady part of one's experience of
incarceration. very regimented, very harsh and african-americans were expected to work in the coal company. they basically crushed coal incentive to the boilers. it was outside work and is considered the lowest and most degrading of the jobs 100 prison. they did not work in this company. they have somewhat preferential treatment. in 1929 in 1930, this wasn't the thing that consumed him. on april 21st, 1930, the largest fire in american prison history broke out, taking the lives of more than 329, many of whom were burned alive. the majority suffocated from
smoke inhalation. it was a classic case, and invertible tragedy and a very painful kind of travesty if you will. what happened was once the fire broke out, they let some of the prisoners out in a began at the bottom tiers and worked their way up. as you can imagine by the time the sixth steer cellblock and by the time they got it to the third floor to the third floor, and the heat was unbearable and so everybody perished if you are in the fifth and sixth box. the prison guards -- rather the prison superintendent point of view was he was standing on the outside of the gates of the gates at the machine gun trained at the entrance. and so, it is sort of this experience of seeing such catastrophic loss of life that chester himes began to turn
inward and think of himself in a literary way. almost immediately he began producing incredibly short stories. by 1934, "esquire" magazine at the end of 1932 or the beginning of 1933. by 1934, african-american chester himes is publishing short fiction in "esquire" magazine alongside ernest hemingway, john this process. they are sorted bringing out leon trott team has something in "esquire." langston hughes as the other african-american writer. "esquire" is definitely surgery transformative publication for literary sensibilities and to begin to present the american male not necessarily as the
breadwinner and father figure, but sort of more as they hit the james bond figure. himes becomes one of their most highly regarded artists. he publishes during this time in venues like "esquire," what we call white life stories. there's only second or african-american stories are the protagonists in so short stories read into what our white american men and they are enraged in your sorted dealing with their inner world and the struggles they have about confinement and sort of longing in desire, but especially again, this rage. chester starts to think about what his career would be like as a novelist.
someone who writes his way out of incarceration. he has a couple of strong advantages. one of them was his cousin, henry lee mood. he winds up being the press secretary for robert weaver, the first african-american, sort of like the housing secretary in the roosevelt administration. a history again by cabinet person in the 1930s. you will have heard of what they call the kitchen cabinet that includes people like weaver and it also sort of gesture to other african-americans who would have been sort of leaders in the union movement likea philip randolph or people like the secretary of the naacp and his deputy, roy wilkins and the
sterling attorney, thurgood marshall. henry lee and the assault these people. they are all actually intimate of his. he's this important journalists. the 1% to break the story in "the new york times" and the national press about the shift in electoral voting patterns that will enable african-americans who moved to major northern metropolises to build a shift the balance of power. african-americans get behind a democratic candidate, then those candidates will win because the balance of power has shifted that this new black migration and henry lee mood brings that out in a series of articles in "the new york times" and the really inspires chester who wants to sort of, you know, stay even with his brother who earns a phd and also his cousin, a big shot in new york and he starts thinking once they get out of prison i can sort of make it.
what happened with the fire is the ohio state parole starts to take it seriously. it gets reduced to a seven-year sentence. so chester comes out in 1936. he comes back to cleveland where he's trying to make it as a writer and hitting his head against the wall as all writers do. as all writers must. in the company of a really progressive white couple who have founded a playwright or african-american artists. blue bromfield who has this remarkable place in ohio. katherine hunt earned and humphrey bogart get married in
1945. he's highly regarded, rich, seems to notice talking about. he says hey come to you and your wife will come out to malabar for the summer. i will introduce you to the people in hollywood. they'll take your manuscript's to new york to my publishing friend and i will sort of make your career. one of his great fun was had no fervor, the author of showboat but sort of brought paul robeson to the floor of american culture when he sings old man river. he had a hand in the career of the african-american novelists who publish several novels at the end of the 1930s. he himself had sort of served during the summers when he was in college is sort of help
around the house or at parties, but sort of thing. my mother is here with us today and she had water stirrup and as one of her english professors. so i think that rumsfeld wanted to do at in a one better. i take this african-american ex-con in making a big major literary celebrity. so chester took him at his word and he goes to california. he says he needs to go to los angeles where they're making all these prison movies in the summer of 1940, 1941. so he moves out there and he gets the door shut in a space his face everyplace he does. they know him from "esquire." but he said your way to black to be in these places. and so chester becomes quite better about his rejection and it's more than that. in fact, he learned the racial
integration practices with the worst services industries in california where you've got shipyard and air force industries in these places are as segregated as the fewer movies eni or texas or alabama. he says the only thing that's different is the attitude that fights in california expect you to be grateful and he was absolutely disgusted. he has this time becomes more closely connect bid is enamored from the far left but especially the communist party in the book i will call indignant generation i say we should think about for you to shins that have given us the data generation. a generation of black writers to change attitudes towards issues of race and also what i think
could be called american imperialism. the communist party of the julius was a lot of fun in the federalist writers project would be this reappeared very significant as the first interracial organization that cultivates african-american writers. so heinz get to know the site of the world were intimately in los angeles. he had worked as a federal writers project leader in cleveland and the end of the 1930s. and you know, all of these irony is, he and jean get this house. so is his wife, jean himes. the meat and she's 16 and he has maintained bit taller to in the shorter couple are the leaders of the communist party.
this is not in the book. i only learned this after the publication of the book. the bad is the two couples. the nicest house they ever lived in was one that became available to them why? because of the relocation not that removed japanese citizen from los angeles, right? in 1943 by what we call the zoot suit riots. 1943 is as incendiary a year it made in 68. we don't remember it that way, which is interesting. in los angeles, you had groups of servicemen combing neighborhood beating latinos and
blacks who are wearing the latest fashion of the day. he stopped at the rifle on his knee and did that in preparation of white moms coming to drag him and gmail. you see a dramatic shift in his writing in 1933, 1934. he published in the naacp and the urban league's journals fairly what i would call fairly conservative publications, geared towards the black middle class, geared toward the light philanthropic interests and he started to publish these really biting, trenchant pieces that advocate direct assault, revolutionary practice against the regime of segregation. during wartime, this is sedition. so niekro markers are needed at
the time for revolution is now. he's mentioning publications. this didn't sit with the powers that be, so use target to be a target of the fbi raid at this point. chester himes was undaunted. these kind of been surveilled for the rejection, sometimes never faced him and he wrote what many people consider his most daring and averages work right at this moment. 1944, 1945. if you think of native son by richard wright, sells 500 copies in 1940 is having an undercurrent of tension between mary dalton, remember accidentally carried her into her bedroom and appears in the doorway.
this novel if he hollers let him go is about the overcurrent of interracial desire. it's a very dramatic story of the book when it goes through the process of publication. chester does meet richard wright and he moves to new york to new york or so to relocate to new york. chester also, unlike other writers who were sort of playing a game with publishers and reviewers. he was combative if you sort of came out and said if he hollers, let them go was not sophisticated literary techniques, but especially people who disagreed with his politics. he had words for you and he often put them in print in publications and he could show himself for photographers when you want to come and the results though widely known as a person
who is very fond. he became friends with a literary pacemaker and gave us this remarkable photograph in 1946 on the cover of the book. he was probably the white man that himes was closest to. they remained friends throughout the rest of his life. chester always needed not just emotional worst spiritual support, but he often and like most writers in the financial support and van vechten is very good that way. he also got to know ralph allison and piniella said. they are sharing thanksgiving in 1846 together. 1947 together.
so, the novel that i think he should be best known for his cold lonely crusade. only crusade never comes out in paperback in an american edition. that is the reason why we don't know the books available now are ones that are u.k. editions. chester around this time really began the most gnarled and complex and antagonistic hostile relationship with publishers of any writer i am familiar with. certainly among african-american writers. he wanted this book to be the great prize winner in bestseller, but unfortunately it flopped. in some ways, this is the book we still need to digest. this is the difficulty of black labor and middle-class and
basically this is a suggestion that we have great distance to travel. when his friend said, you know, you've betrayed me intellectually and they fell apart as friends. ellison was becoming known at the end of the 1940s is really not just the great intellectual, but somebody who understood cells to be the great artist like langston hughes and chester himes, in some ways sort of a lofty picture and they would often say to admirers he thought chester was intellectually dishonest and assorted interesting, he featured kind of ad hominem attack in the novel lonely crusade. it's hilarious. you really must read it. chester also as friends with one
of our assorted underdog african-american reviewers, intellectuals, writer in his own right from chicago. despite the support of a group of people, chester still could not make it in the united states. he left the united states never to return with the exception of 10 months, 11 month period in 1955, he would take the united states as a tourist. so we had asserted pretty good early success when he went abroad. yet some of his novels translated like lonely crusade and then he also was able to finish writing another work of his, which is incredibly import of the third generation that was
completed while he was traveling europe, living in spain, living in the united kingdom and living in france. sort of funny when the advertised this book, even though cellists chester and ralph hollers then had a nice site on new year's day, 1953. they still had to go for a quote when they advertise the book in "the new york times." on his way overseas, he met this woman, willa thompson, who was sort of from an american blue blood, blue veins social register kind of a background. she was a smith college graduate. you know, she had relatives who were ambassadors. she lived in belgium and had a family in belgium and distinguished herself during the second world war. they had this sort of torrid
love affair where they wanted to get married and be in interracial married couple, but the burden really was quite extraordinary in the early 1950s, even for people abroad trying to make a living as a writing couple. one of the reasons why chester didn't publish a book in 1955 as the descent so much time writing letters to willa thompson and she certainly centered about 1458 singlespaced documents for the exhaustively go through every dimension of their relationship. what is fascinating is chester was often accused of using people. it's not clear to me how he would've been able to use her. she somehow got the better of the relationship. in 1967, he was asked by "the new york times" book reviews to talk about the fiction he enjoyed the most in use that as an opportunity to really expose some of the intimacies of their
relationship. overseas, we have the reconstruction of really unimportant and very, very significant to you of writers and intellectuals per and intellectuals spirit to and intellectuals spirit to gray, james baldwin, oliver harrington, william gardner smith and james baldwin as they are. from philadelphia and smith is a far left african-american novelist, political figure in philadelphia and also more recently the man of the hour, richard gibson, a literary protége person who wins in 1920 and then goes overseas. when the trump administration released the jfk files, the last
batch made a dozen documents were released in january are at the end of december. it was surveilled richard -- this has been something he had been accused of mainly by chester himes as early as 1967 in the documents from the agency files i don't know that it's necessarily the total release of gibson material. i requested the materials in 2004 and was told there was really nothing to find. they began a formal and official relationship as a clandestine agent in 1965. so as i said, chester was the overseas person. i'll get to the punchline. the final shift in his career, we would've called him a sort of naturalist writer, social realist writer. but in 1956, living overseas,
the primitives, about a weekend interracial love affair that ended violent than murder. he had sort of fallen him like with a young german actress, regime fisher and they live together in paris. he always talked about eating dog meat. they were surviving on not. she fell madly in love with him. she esteemed him. also at the time of the famous black writers conference in paris in a 1056 she attempted suicide that fall is eventually sent to her parent in germany. the french publisher, editor of the publishing company and for
the second time in two years about writing a detective fiction. himes thought it was slow work beneath them, but he was starving and she backed him up and would say you can turn it into great literature and go ahead and give it a try. the result was a novel called a rage in harlem turned in to a film in the 1980s and the plot was given by my homeboy, walter coleman who's an artist. he says he potted about the scam was $500 into $25,000. he developed the plot into an absurdist novel giving you the
crisis of black urban life at the same time as you can see the hopelessness of liberal american political solutions and it took chester forward to a new generation in the 1960s. unlike many of his peers, maybe especially ralph ellison who had sometimes a very difficult relationship with the raiders of the 1960s and early 1970s, chester was beloved. i'll show you a couple of slides. for one thing, he was well loved to mock a black spirit he continued to return a continued to write journalists at me for no living abroad and he would always make these really cutting
remarks to overcome its history of slavery and racial segregation. in france at the time, charles de gaulle was the victim of an assassination attempt in 1962 and chester is sort of calling out the french far right and is also comparing them to the state of mississippi. he was always sort of various token, very vigorous and when malcolm x visits in 1964, interestingly enough he goes to see chester himes. he said everybody thought it was master. this alters dates men.
he was kind of the prime minister of future. this was sort of a kind of literary cultural and political statesmanship is that had the sort of transnational boundaries. i believe you with one final image. i really love this photograph. chester himes died in 1984. he was bed ridden pretty much the last year of his life in because of the fall from about nine to 73 onward was very difficult for him to get around. he went into a wheelchair sporadically at the end of the 70s and more or less permanent confinement for the night teen 80s. this photograph gives you a sense of the in bomb of all skill of this black man from cleveland, jefferson city, norman, augusta, the
penitentiary and also who scaled the absolute highest of literary stardom. he also said people talk about him. he so great. but i'm better known in france said james baldwin is. thank you very much. [applause] we have time for some questions. it's >> i have a question. what happened to his wife, jean? [laughter] >> thank you. so, chester met jean sort of
right after he leaves school in the meet that kind of a wild party. the wild parties were always an alleyway appeared he first started carrying a pistol because he had to protect the two of them, but especially men that wanted to take advantage of her and turned her out onto the street as a. she married one of the people in his burglary gang. as a fellow burglar. they got divorced shortly after his release in the partnership will be on romance that lasted until he left the united dates to the 1940s. what's fascinating about the relationship as a source of deep
bitterness and strong insecurity was that arguably because of his prison record and have to do with the preference of american institution, but especially american liberals, the strong preference they have for black women over black men. she had a flourishing career would work for nascent social welfare agent fees come in the u.s. the second world war, recreation and social services supplements confinement facilities. he always was quite bitter and insecure about the success she has more or less in the white collar white world that he felt like he was consistently denied in this bitter wrangling behind with publishers. he also had a tremendously
contentious relationship. both were heavy drinkers and that instead things under alcohol and they sort of went back and forth from 1948 for the five years until the relationship collapse in 1952. they were formally divorced in the 1076 and he remarried leslie packard. i show a side of her who became the caretaker of his literary estate. thank you for the question. [inaudible] the rest of his life, he spent in paris. he would have more impact if he would've come back. >> yeah, i hope he would've had more if you lived here for the rest of his career.
he was the kind of person temperamentally who found really any residue or vestige of the congress and an attitude of racism and the practices of racial segregation absolutely unbearable. so in 53 he goes really just for vacation. he lives in london for six months and move to spain. and then he came back to paris. he goes to the u.s. for all of 1955 and not to paris for about three years, moving around europe for quite a bit and then he settles in spain in 1969. the house he started building was complete and be completely relocated to spain. he spent time in places like amsterdam, wherever he met friends and people conducive to the things he's interested in.