Black Boy

( 187 )


Richard Wright grew up in the woods of Mississippi, with poverty, hunger, fear, and hatred. He lied, stole, and raged at those around him; at six he was a "drunkard," hanging about taverns. Surly, brutal, cold, suspicious, and self-pitying, he was surrounded on one side by whites who were either indifferent to him, pitying, or cruel, and on the other by blacks who resented anyone trying to rise above the common lot.

Black Boy is Richard Wright's powerful account of his journey ...

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Black Boy

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Richard Wright grew up in the woods of Mississippi, with poverty, hunger, fear, and hatred. He lied, stole, and raged at those around him; at six he was a "drunkard," hanging about taverns. Surly, brutal, cold, suspicious, and self-pitying, he was surrounded on one side by whites who were either indifferent to him, pitying, or cruel, and on the other by blacks who resented anyone trying to rise above the common lot.

Black Boy is Richard Wright's powerful account of his journey from innocence to experience in the Jim Crow South. It is at once an unashamed confession and a profound indictment—a poignant and disturbing record of social injustice and human suffering.

In this once sensational, now classic autobiography, Richard Wright tells with unforgettable fury and eloquence what he thought.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Son of a tenant farmer and school teacher, the award-winning novelist was always hungry as a boy. Whether at home, in an orphanage, or in the care of an aunt or grandmother, he begged or stole food without remorse. His 1945 Dickens-like story of abandonment, child labor, and self-education is a classic of survival in the Jim Crow South.

(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Sacred Fire

Black Boy is Richard Wright’s unforgettable story of growing up in the Jim Crow South. Published in 1945, it is often considered a fictionalized autobiography or an autobiographical novel because of Wright’s use of fiction techniques (and possibly fictional events) to tell his story. Nevertheless, the book is a lyrical and skillfully wrought description of Wright’s hungry youth in rural Mississippi and Memphis, told from the perspective of the adult Wright, who was still trying to come to grips with the cruel deprivations and humiliations of his childhood.

Life in the pre&#8212civil rights South was intensely alienating for young Richard. At every turn, his desire to communicate was stunted, whether by famiIy members who insisted he "hush!" or by teachers who harassed and mocked him. He was surrounded by people he considered contemptibly ignorant, people who willingly allowed their lives to be restricted by tradition and authority no matter how illegitimate or self-destructive. Whether they were racist whites or passive, uncompassionate blacks, his fellow southerners viewed Richard’s independence and intelligence with suspicion and scorned and humiliated him for his family's poverty. He lashed out by hitting the streets: He was already drinking by the time he turned six, and he fought constantly. He finally found his outlet in writing; by the end of the book, he decided that there was nothing he could ever do to improve his life in the South and committed to moving to Chicago to pursue his art.

When first published,Black Boy was considered by many to be an angry attack on the racist South because of Wright’s hard-hitting portrayal of the racism he faced, not to mention his already-acquired reputation as a "protest writer." But the book’s value goes deeper than that: Wright bears witness to the American struggle for the right of self-definition. His own quest to escape the suffocating world of his childhood and find a place where he could freely exercise his individuality, creativity, and integrity was ultimately successful. But Black Boy also offers insight into an entire culture of people, both black and white, who had unthinkingly accepted a narrowly prescribed course of life. As Wright put it, "[though] they lived in America where in theory there existed equality of opportunity, they knew unerringly what to aspire to and what not to aspire to." Despite Wright’s stifling environment, his story is inspirational for its portrait of how a black boy shucked off the limited expectations of those around him and dared to aspire.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061443084
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/29/2008
  • Series: P.S. Series
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 779,837
  • Lexile: 950L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 8.26 (w) x 5.60 (h) x 1.14 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Wright

Richard T. Wright holds a Ph.D in biology from Harvard University and is professor emeritus of biology at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts. He is the author of numerous scholarly articles and is widely sought as a lecturer in biology and ecology.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Richard Nathaniel Wright (full name)
    1. Date of Birth:
      September 4, 1908
    2. Place of Birth:
      Near Natchez, Mississippi
    1. Date of Death:
      November 28, 1960
    2. Place of Death:
      Paris, France

Read an Excerpt

Black Boy

Chapter One

One winter morning in the long-ago, four-year-old days of my life I found myself standing before a fireplace, warming my hands over a mound of glowing coals, listening to the wind whistle past the house outside. All morning my mother had been scolding me, telling me to keep still, warning me that I must make no noise. And I was angry, fretful, and impatient. In the next room Granny lay ill and under the day and night care of a doctor and I knew that I would be punished if I did not obey. I crossed restlessly to the window and pushed back the long fluffy white curtains-which I had been forbidden to touch-and looked yearningly out into the empty street. I was dreaming of running and playing and shouting, but the vivid image of Granny's old, white, wrinkled, grim face, framed by a halo of tumbling black hair, lying upon a huge feather pillow, made me afraid.

The house was quiet. Behind me my brother-a year younger than I-was playing placidly upon the floor with a toy. A bird wheeled past the window and I greeted it with a glad shout.

"You better hush," my brother said.

"You shut up," I said.

My mother stepped briskly into the room and closed the door behind her. She came to me and shook her finger in my face.

"You stop that yelling, you hear?" she whispered. "You know Granny's sick and you better keep quiet!"

I hung my head and sulked. She left and I ached with boredom.

"I told you so," my brother gloated.

"You shut up," I told him again.

I wandered listlessly about the room, trying to think of something to do, dreading the return of my mother, resentful of being neglected. The room heldnothing of interest except the fire and finally I stood before the shimmering embers, fascinated by the quivering coals. An idea of a new kind of game grew and took root in my mind. Why not throw something into the fire and watch it burn? I looked about. There was only my picture book and MY mother would beat me if I burned that. Then what? I hunted around until I saw the broom leaning in a closet. That's it ... Who would bother about a few straws if I burned them? I pulled out the broom and tore out a batch of straws and tossed them into the fire and watched them smoke, turn black, blaze, and finally become white wisps of ghosts that vanished. Burning straws was a teasing kind of fun and I took more of them from the broom and cast them into the fire. My brother came to my side, his eyes drawn by the blazing straws.

"Don't do that," he said.

"How come?" I asked.

"You'll burn the whole broom," he said.

"You hush," I said.

"I'll tell," he said.

"And I'll hit you," I said.

My idea was growing, blooming. Now I was wondering just how the long fluffy white curtains would look if I lit a bunch of straws and held it under them. Would I try it? Sure. I pulled several straws from the broom and held them to the fire until they blazed; I rushed to the window and brought the flame in touch with the hems of the curtains. My brother shook his head.

"Naw," he said.

He spoke too late. Red circles were eating into the white cloth: then a flare of flames shot out. Startled, I backed away. The fire soared to the ceiling and I trembled with fright. Soon a sheet of saw her taut face peering under the edge of the house. She had found me! I held my breath and waited to hear her command me to come to her. Her face went away; no, she had not seen me huddled in the dark nook of the chimney. I tucked my head into my arms and my teeth chattered.


The distress I sensed in her voice was as sharp and painful as the lash of a whip on my flesh.

"Richard! The house is on fire. Oh, find my child!"

Yes, the house was afire, but I was determined not to leave my place of safety. Finally I saw another face peering under the edge of the house; it was my father's. His eyes must have become accustomed to the shadows, for he was now pointing at me.

"There he is!"

"Naw!" I screamed.

"Come here, boy!"


"The house is on fire!"

"Leave me 'lone!"

He crawled to me and caught hold of one of my legs. I hugged the edge of the brick chimney with all of my strength. My father yanked my leg and I clawed at the chimney harder.

"Come outta there, you little fool!"

"Turn me loose!"

I could not withstand the tugging at my leg and my fingers relaxed. It was over. I would be beaten. I did not care any more. I knew what was coming. He dragged me into the back yard and the instant his hand left me I jumped to my feet and broke into a wild run, trying to elude the people who surrounded me, heading for the street. I was caught before I had gone ten paces.

From that moment on things became tangled for me. Out of the weeping and the shouting and the wild talk, I learned that no one had died in the fire. My brother, it seemed, had finally overcome enough of his panic to warn my mother, but not before more than half the house had been destroyed. Using the mattress as a stretcher, Grandpa and an uncle had lifted Granny from her bed and had rushed her to the safety of a neighbor's house. My long absence and silence had made everyone think, for a while, that I had perished in the blaze.

Black Boy. Copyright (c) by Richard Wright . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Reading Group Guide

Plot Summary
Black Boy is Richard Wright's memoir of his life from early childhood to the launching of his career as a writer. His father abandoned the family soon after they moved to Memphis, leaving Wright, his mother and brother in dire straits. Schooling throughout his childhood was erratic and often interrupted; he eventually completed the ninth grade. Domestic violence, neglect and hunger plagued him throughout his youth.

Wright's first prolonged contact with white people came when he began working odd jobs to earn enough money for food. The discrimination and violence he experienced in the Jim Crow South came as a terrible shock to him. Time and again, Richard was the target of white hatred because he failed to hide his true thoughts and feelings behind a mask of servility and humility. Finally, resolved to leave the South forever, Richard scraped together enough money to move north to Chicago.

Wright vividly describes the intellectual awakening he experienced in Chicago as he immersed himself in the works of Dreiser, Mencken, Faulkner and Sherwood Anderson and began his first serious efforts at writing. Black Boy ends with an image of Wright sitting poised with pencil in hand, determined to "hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo." He had arrived at the threshold of his professional literary career.

Discussion Topics
1. In one of his first contacts with whites, Wright feels himself tensing up with confusion and suspicion over how to act. Discuss the various forms that tension takes in the course of Black Boy. Does Wright glimpse any relief from this tension?

2. Personal narratives like Zora NealeHurston's "How It Feels to Be Colored Me," and James Baldwin's Notes of a Native Son have been among the most enduring and powerful modes of expression among African-American writers. What is it about the African-American experience that makes so many gifted writers tell their own stories? What influence has Black Boy had on this genre?

3. Wright writes: "I used to mull over the strange absence of real kindness in Negroes, how unstable was our tenderness, how lacking in genuine passion we were, how void of great hope, how timid our joy, how bare our traditions, how hollow our memories, how lacking we were in those intangible sentiments that bind man to man, and how shallow was even our despair." Taken out of context, this reads like a terrible damnation of the African-American soul. How does the meaning of these words change when read in the context of the book - and the context of Wright's own youth? Do you feel the book justifies this criticism of African-Americans - or is this passage a sign of Wright's self-hatred, his lack of sympathy with the essence of black culture?

4. When it was published in 1945, Black Boy was read primarily as an attack on the violence and oppression of the Jim Crow South; during the 1960s, critics began to focus on the sensibility of the narrator - how his experiences shaped him, how he found his voice and satisfied his yearning for expression. Which view of the novel feels most on target to you?

5. Several years before he died, Wright wrote, "I declare unabashedly that I like and even cherish the state of abandonment and seems the natural, inevitable condition of man, and I welcome it..." Discuss this statement in the light of Black Boy.

6. Compare the male and female characters as they are presented in Black Boy. To what extent is Richard rebelling against the powerful role of women in African-American families? Do you think Wright is a misogynist, as some critics have written? Are there any men in the book to whom Richard feels close or to whom he turns for guidance or mentoring?

About the Author: Richard Wright won international renown for his powerful and visceral depiction of the black experience. He stands today alongside such African-American luminaries as Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison, and two of his novels, Native Son and Black Boy, are required reading in high schools and colleges across the nation. He died in 1960.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 187 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 187 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 24, 2010

    Truth, Powerful, Revealing

    Want to know in depth detail about the life of a typical of an African American boy growing up in the 1920's? Well this is the book for you.

    "Black Boy" is an autobiography of author Richard Wright, and his life growing up. Read as he goes in full detail of his harsh life at home vs. his everyday life trying to keep up and cope with the society.

    Wright reveals the real action that would go on in a typical broken African American home. However, violence was not the only conflict he had to deal with. Because of his family's dedication to Religion, Wright had to assemble that in along with his behaviors-Wright always chose not to.

    From stealing to getting a new job every week, Wright makes sure the reader does not want to put the book down. A definitely must read!

    8 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 25, 2010

    Truly enlightening "black boy" autobiography

    In America today, it would be insulting to say, "Hey you, black boy!" to call an African-American child. So when I first read the title of this book, I knew it was going to be about racism. And one of the book's main theme turned out to be about it.

    I read this book because it was my school requirement, and before I read it, I thought to myself, 'Ehh, just another book about racism.' Interestingly, this autobiography opened up my mind, changing my view drastically about the life of African-Americans during early 1900s. Before reading the book, I thought only rights, like voting, were denied to African-Americans. However, it was waaaaaaay more than that. Not only the rights were denied, the majority of white in America impacted African-Americans psychologically, discouraging them from rising up in status. Through out this book, the main character struggles through the segregated America to achieve what other few African-American tried during this period, equality. The author's diction is easier than I thought it would've been, and sometimes I stayed up till midnight reading this because it was simply attracting. I strongly recommend reading this autobiography to the young generation.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 9, 2012

    A boy can only go through so much. Or can he? Black B

    A boy can only go through so much. Or can he? Black Boy is a compelling autobiography describing all the struggles and hardships of Richard Wright’s life. Richard deals with many issues (which are the main themes of the book) including racism, religious beliefs, choosing between right and wrong, and trust issues.

    From an early age Richard has struggled. At a young age, Wright set his house on fire, his father left his family helpless, and he and his brother were forced into an orphanage because their mother could no longer provide for them. This sets up his life of fighting to find enough money to support himself and all of his family- in a world full of racism. Richard has a passion for writing and reading-will it break him or make him? Richard must learn to deal with this chaos he calls life, but he trusts no one and will take help from nobody.
    I really enjoyed the autobiography Black Boy, but I thought it got slower towards the end. I would highly recommend this book to high schoolers, because it provides detailed insight into Richard’s life, and gives a clear understanding of his hardships including racism. It includes clear and crisp stories of his life, with very vivid imagery. The book will certainly keep them on their toes and keep them reading- what will happen to Richard next?

    I loved the fact that so many major events were packed into the book, but that minor events were also included to support overall ideas and provide further explanation into the significance of each event. Imagery was present in every page, and it felt as if you were living through the book with Richard himself, partaking in his journey. I found myself clinging to each word, undecidedly feeling that I did like Richard, then a couple pages later thinking about how I despised him. In the end, I liked him, and that maybe I just didn’t like some of his choices. Either way, there is certainly enough to read and understand about his life.

    However, I felt the book didn’t provide enough detail about some of the other characters (yes, I know, it was an autobiography, but still) such as Richard’s father, mother, and brother and at times felt confused when other family members were mentioned (aunts and uncles). Also, mentions of certain jobs felt unimportant and unnecessary, as they were briefly mentioned, and soon replaced by another job. Some parts got very religious as well, just as a forewarning.

    My overall rating of this book would be probably an 8.5/10. Like previously mentioned, it was a very good book that kept me reading and turning the page, but had a few issues that were quite bothersome (that is my own opinion). If you like this book, I would suggest checking out a few of Richard Wright’s other book such as Eight Men: Short Stories or Uncle Tom’s Children. Certainly consider reading Black Boy, I doubt you’ll regret it.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2012

    Excellent read

    I first read this as a young, impressionable black teenager. I thought this spoke to me in a way that was unimaginable. Cannot recommend this high enough.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 24, 2010

    March 25, 2010 This Black Boy is Not the Typical Stereotype

    When I got the list of books that I had to read for my upcoming school year Black Boy By Richard Wright was not one of the books that stuck out to me. When it came time in the year to start reading it I fell in love with this story of an astounding mans life. From the very first page you feel sympathetic for Richard and his younger brother, Alan. Immediately you see how their parents raise them with a strong fist. As Richard grows up he is forced to deal with harsh parents, grandparents, teachers and white bosses but that never discourages him. His will power to keep moving forward and learning is truly inspirational. Richard Wright writes in a non-exaggerated way that clearly shows the harassment and persecution this man had to endure his whole life. His describes his situation with the perfect amount of detail so you are aware of his surroundings but it is not overbearing. It forces you to go through an emotional rollercoaster that I would ride any day!
    For all you people who thinks this book would not apply to you, you could not be more wrong. I am a privileged white girl with caring parents and teachers and friend always there to help but I was still able to find more similarities to Richard than most would expect. During his childhood he struggled with fitting in when he changed from school to school, that is an emotion that anyone would feel. If they were going to a new school, job, or even a party. At his job he encounters abnormal coworkers, which any person can relate to. I guarantee that any person could pick up this book and find a least one commonality with their life. That is a huge reason it is such a great read! It also gives great topic discussions so it's perfect for a class, book club or simply bonding with a friend. Once you pick up this book you will not be able to put it down

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2010

    An okay book

    Black Boy was interesting, but it seemed to me that Richard would keep going backwards even when it appeared he was moving forward. For this reason the plot, to me, seemed to be very repetitive but with different characters. It was fun noticing the differences between Richard the character and Wright the author, I wouldn't really recommend this book but I'm sure there's plenty of other people that would.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 6, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Black Boy Book Review

    Richard Wright, the author of Black Boy, Born September 4, 1908, on a Rucker's Plantation near Roxie, Mississippi. Richard was a son to Nathan and Ella Wright and an older brother to Alan. Both Richard and Alan raised by their mother, who struggled to put food on the table and pay bill's after the disappearance of their father. After Richard's mother became very ill they were forced to move, in order to receive help from other family members. Shortly later Richard had to find work to help support his family. After finding work Richard runs into a problem of racism and tries to separate himself from most other blacks by educating himself though reading lots of books and magazines.
    Richard, my favorite character, and I have a few things in common. We both didn't really have much to eat growing up and were forced to find work at a young age to help support the family, meanwhile trying to educate and better ourselves though school and reading books. There are a lot of things Richard does as a child that a lot of people could relate to. For example, Richard almost burned down his mother and father's house by being curios about what would happen if he lit the bottom of some curtains on fire. His almost getting into fights also became a frequent occurrence.
    There are a lot of really great stories in the book, but the one part that stands out for me is when Richard moves to Chicago trying to escape racism. Shortly after arriving in Chicago Richard needs to find a place to stay. While looking for a place he meets this really nice lady that offers him a room and some hot meals. After talking with this lady for a while, she realizes that Richard is a good person and introduces him to her daughter. They begin to talk about how the daughter wants to get married and that Richard would be a good man for her. Thinking it was a joke Richard continued with living in their home. One morning the daughter came to Richard and tried to seduce him. When he denied the girl got mad and stormed out the room. At this point Richard realized that the family was really crazy and decided that it would be best to move again. Overall the novel Black Boy is a great story. To me the story gets really boring towards the end of part 2 because of all the political and communist talk. If I were to change one thing in the novel, I would talk about his brother a little more and what life experience's he had though this time.
    Black Boy is a great novel that touches the hearts of many people. I recommend this book to anyone who would like to read the struggle of blacks and the work they had to put up with in order to survive during this time.

    2 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 7, 2012

    The Black Boy by Richard Wright is a powerful autobiography of R

    The Black Boy by Richard Wright is a powerful autobiography of Richard’s young life. He faces long and challenging areas in his life in the south with the Jim Crow Laws. Richard is the narrator of the entire book relating to his life as a young child. The perspective is from a small child’s point of view growing up in the world as a black boy. During this story Richard starts off living with his mother, grandmother and brother in a small house. The house is then caught on fire by Richard forcing the family to move to Jackson. While in Jackson Richard’s mom got ill and was near death. In the beginning Richard was not aware of much that was going on in the world around him and had not realized that there was a problem with racial problems between the blacks and the whites. In the book Richard began to selling papers not realizing what the papers had inside of them. The text explains how a black man showed what he had been selling in this quote, “Well, the paper you’re selling preaches the Ku Klux Klan doctrines,” (131). Richard, as a young boy had not yet realized that he had been working for the white’s against the blacks. Richard only knew small parts of what had been going on, and that was that white’s particularly did not care for the blacks unless for work. Richard’s family was never happy with him and his beliefs. Because of that he was always being beaten by his family. In the text he explains how his Uncle Tom was very angry with him trying to beat him, “This day I’m going to give you a whipping some ought to have given you long ago,” (157). Richard grew up in a very unsupportive household. Throughout the years Richard lands a few part time jobs trying to make enough money to make it on his own. By the time graduation comes along he stole money making his way to the north. Richard was horrified with his crime, but he had to do it to make his life better. Richard makes it to Memphis where he started his life. His life does not change much, but leads him to a better life. In the end Richard realizes that he still wants to be a writer and flees to Chicago making his life better.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 24, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    A Fascinating Read!

    Black Boy is an autobiography about African-American writer Richard Wright's life in the early 1900's.

    What I personally liked about this book was Wright's writing style. It's clear, but descriptive. I could understand the message in the text the first time I read it. Wright's words transport you into another world, while perceptively displaying his emotions.

    I also loved the character Richard Wright himself. He is probably the most human character I have ever read before. Even when he is off killing small animals, you find your self sympathizing with him. His character is continually fascinating and honest.Black Boy is a very good read.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 10, 2009

    This is a book to have..

    Richard Wright can never dissapoint. This non-fiction novel is even better than Native Son even though it does not have such a thrilling story line. The way he writes captivates the reader in a way that one will not want to put the book down. Learning about the past in his perspective is enthralling and amusing to read about.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 2, 2015

    One of my favorites

    Excellent book. Would read it over and over.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 28, 2014


    Can someone plz lend this to me

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2014

    Fascinating and horrifying look at racial prejudice in the 1920`

    Fascinating and horrifying look at racial prejudice in the 1920`s south told through the eyes of an unlikely eyewitness - a self-educated black intellectual. Wright`s stark depiction of the sordid and cruel worlds of both blacks and whites make riveting reading.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2014


    Blood. I-I would really like to be your alpha female. Please.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2014

    To black from evening

    Can i join your pack?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2014


    You can join.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2014

    The vl The Black Boy

    This is a very good book i hope u enjoy it. Becuase my group enjoyed alot

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 30, 2013

    Is richard black ?

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2013



    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2013

    Lend me?

    Could anyone lend it to me?

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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