1 minute read

Calvin Hernton

Worked In Welfare Office

After finishing his master's degree, Hernton held a series of one-year teaching appointments at small, historically black Southern colleges and universities: Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1957-58, Alabama A&M College (now University) in 1958-59, Edward Waters College in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1959-60, and Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 1960-61. He married Mildred Webster in 1958, and the couple had one son, Antone. Filled with growing literary ambitions, he headed for New York City in 1961 (he had already lived there briefly in 1956 and 1957) and took a job as a social worker with the New York State welfare department. During this period, Hernton interviewed black and white co-workers in both the South and North, gathering material for what would become Sex and Racism in America.

Hernton also wrote poetry, some of which was anthologized in the 1962 collection Beyond the Blues: New Poems by American Negroes. In 1963 he was one of the founders of Umbra, a New York literary magazine that nurtured the careers of writers such as Alice Walker and Ishmael Reed as well as publishing new works by established writers. Hernton himself was an impressive figure as he read his own poems in the circles that developed around the publication. "He reached zones that we in the Umbra Workshop were then only moving towards," poet Joe Johnson told the Oberlin Review. "We all wanted to make fierce personal statements. Hernton was there.... We heard Hernton singing what we were talking about." Hernton's "Jitterbugging in the Streets," a long poem on the theme of white indifference to violence against blacks, was widely reprinted and was read by Hernton with a jazz accompaniment on the Folkways-label album New Jazz Poets.

In 1965, Sex and Racism in America was issued by the major Doubleday publishing house. That book, which was eventually translated into seven languages, had a unique status somewhere between sociological text and crusading polemic. "There is a sexual involvement, at once real and vicarious, connecting white and black people in America that spans the history of this country from the era of slavery to the present," Hernton wrote. With the oppressive system of slavery and its aftermath as a backdrop, Hernton divided his study into four parts, exploring the sexual psychologies of black men, black women, white men, and white women, respectively.

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: James Heneghan (1930-) Biography - Personal to Rick Jacobson Biography - PersonalCalvin Hernton Biography - Worked In Welfare Office, Traced Sexual Tensions To Slavery, Mentored Avery Brooks - Selected writings