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2 Marcus Christian's Treatment of Les Gens de Couleur Libre In 1936 Lyle Saxon asked Marcus Christian (1900-1976), reporter for the Louisiana Weekly (a black New Orleans newspaper in existence from 1925 to the present), poet, and owner of a small dry-cleaning business, to participate in "a Negro unit" of the Federal Writers' Project. The unit would be housed at Dillard University and would "collect Negro material for a history of the Negro in Louisiana."1 Christian accepted the offer. When Saxon met Christian, the latter was poetry and contributing editor for the Weekly and had published poems in that paper as well as two other New Orleans papers (the Daily States and the Item-Tribune) and such national journals as Phylon, the Crisis, Opportunity, the New York Herald-Tribune, the Pittsburgh Courier, and the Baltimore Afro-American. i. "Biographical Material," The Marcus B. Christian Collection, The Archives and Manuscripts Department of the Earl K. Long Library of the University of New Orleans. All of the unpublished manuscripts, source material, correspondence , and creative writing of Marcus Christian are found in this collection. For farther information, see Violet Harrington Bryan, The Myth of New Orleans in Literature : Dialogues of Face and Gender (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, J 993)42 VIOLET HARRINGTON BRYAN CHRISTIAN'S TREATMENT OF LES GENS DE COULEUR LIBRE 43 Mel Washburn, Item-Tribune columnist, had labeled him "the poet laureate of New Orleans Negroes."2 Christian was born in Mechanicsville (now Houma), Louisiana, where his father and grandfather had both been teachers. As he noted on the book jacket of his poem High Ground (1958), his father "taught all his children the art of writing poetry" and read poetry to them in original French. "One of the earliest remembrances I have of my father," wrote Christian, "is of being perched upon one knee and my little twin-sister on the other, while he read French poetry to us amid screams of childish laughter."3 His father died when he was thirteen, and Christian went to work in cane fields for fifty to seventy-five cents a day; he later got a job as a yard boy and general handyman in the town nearby, where he received five dollars a month and board. At seventeen (in 1920) Christian took a train to New Orleans, where he proceeded to develop a cleaning business and a printing press, which were both housed in his shotgun home. He continued his education in night school. During the WPA years and later, Christian edited a book of poetry, From the Deep South (1937), and contributed to The Negro Caravan, edited by Sterling Brown (1941), and The Poetry of the Negro, edited by Arna Bontemps (1949). He wrote the long poems In Memoriam—Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1945) and Common People's Manifesto of World War 77(1948), the history Negro Soldiers in the Battle of New Orleans (1955), the collection of poetry High Ground (1958), the long Whitmanesque poem I Am New Orleans (1968), and the history Negro Ironworkers in Louisiana, 171815100 (1972). When he died on March 21, 1976, he left numerous unpublished poems (1,175 m tne Marcus Christian Collection, University of New Orleans) and pieces of fiction and nonfiction as well as voluminous notes and diaries.4 The Dillard unit of the Louisiana Writers' Project included many of the region's major African American intellectuals of the 19305, 19405, and 19505. Lawrence D. Reddick, professor of history at Dillard Univer2 . "Biographical Material," Marcus B. Christian Collection. See also Joseph Logsdon, "Marcus Bruce Christian," in A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography, ed. Glenn R. Conrad (New Orleans: Louisiana Historical Association, 1988), 1:1778-9. 3. "Biographical Material," Marcus B. Christian Collection. 4. Ibid. 44 VIOLET HARRINGTONBRYAN sity, became the first director of the project, but was soon succeeded by Christian. The original members of the group were Reddick, director, Christian, Clarence A. Laws, Octave Lilly Jr., Eugene B. Willman, Alice Ward-Smith, andJames La Fourche. Under Christian's directorship the membership changed; added to Lilly and Reddick, who remained members , were Horace Mann Bond, Elizabeth Catlett, St. Clair Drake, Arna Bontemps, Rudolphe Moses, and Benjamin Quarles. Margaret Walker passed through and met Langston Hughes in New Orleans before taking a job with the Chicago Federal Writers' Project. In addition to Reddick, Frank Yerby and Randolph Edmonds were also professors at Dillard during the years of the WPA. In fact, Christian was certain that the core of Yerby's novel The...


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