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Calvin Hernton

Traced Sexual Tensions To Slavery

"No writer I have come across except Hernton has had the temerity to so frankly tackle that old bugaboo S-E-X as it relates to life, liberty, and the pursuit of integration," black poet Langston Hughes was quoted as saying in the Chicago Tribune. Hernton explored the motivations of members of each of his four categories; white women reacted to their own oppressed status, Hernton argued (for example), by simultaneously becoming attracted to black men and taking out their own frustrations upon them. White male slave owners, Hernton contended, created a myth of perfect Southern white womanhood, with the result that they both stereotyped black men as potential sexual predators and turned to slave women to satisfy their own needs.

Hernton's ideas were controversial. "Many people were outraged by that book," Ishmael Reed told Margalit Fox of the New York Times. "He went into a section of the American experience that you were not supposed to talk about." But Hernton's theories were amply buttressed by his numerous interviews, and the book became widely read and discussed. The sexual themes of later books by militant black writers, such as Eldridge Cleaver's Soul on Ice, may well have been influenced by Hernton's work. Hernton followed up Sex and Racism in America with a collection of sociological essays, White Papers for White Americans.

With talk about his ideas in full swing, Hernton made a 90-degree turn that was characteristic of his curiosity and varied interests: he headed for London, England, and studied there for four years with the radical psychologist R.D. Laing. This period of time bore literary fruit in a series of writings that Hernton later penned on the subject of drug use, and also in the novel Scarecrow, a violent and surreal tale set in the middle of a transatlantic voyage. Back in the United States in 1970, Hernton spent a year as poet-in-residence at Ohio's Central State University in Wilberforce.

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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