- Bucklin Moon and Thomas Sancton in the 1940s:Crusaders for the Racial Left
In 1943, Edwin Embree, the head of the Julius Rosenwald Foundation, wrote to Atlantic Monthly editor Edward Weeks praising a young Georgian as one of "a small but increasing number of younger white Southerners who represent a point of view which to a great many of us seems much keener than that of the older writers" (Embree to Weeks, 11 Feb. 1943). Embree was talking about Lillian Smith, whose books Strange Fruit, Killers of the Dream, and Now Is the Time would become the best known and most widely read works by an American white advancing the cause of racial integration during the 1940s and early 1950s. But he could have been talking about two other writers, men who, in the circles of the Rosenwald Foundation, the trust fund that nearly created the vanguard of race-liberal writers of the 1940s, were expected to make significant contributions to the disintegration of racial prejudice. Their names were Bucklin Moon and Thomas Sancton.
Bucklin Moon was born in 1911 in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, but after a short time he moved to the South. By 1944 when he was applying for the Rosenwald creative writing fellowship, a grant made to either blacks or southern whites, he would make a successful case for the award by telling director Embree, "I have spent most of my life in that region" (Moon to Embree, 24 Nov. 1944). Moon gained deep personal feelings toward African [End Page 76] Americans and an ability to depict the American South as a youth and as a student at Rollins College in Florida in the early 1930s. At Rollins, Moon visited the Eatonville home of Zora Neale Hurston (who was associated part-time with the college) and intellectually embraced professor John Andrew Rice, who even then was something of a crusader for black rights (Boyd 241–243). Rice left Rollins in 1933 and founded Black Mountain College near Asheville, North Carolina, an experimental school with shockingly unorthodox racial policies like racially integrated classrooms. Moon graduated from Rollins at twenty-four and won some early recognition for a 1938 Harper's magazine short story called "Boats for Hire." Set in the Gulf Coast, the narrative advanced Moon's concern with the tangled emotional connections of race that concluded with base acts of prejudice. By the early 1940s he had taken a job as an editor at the firm Doubleday and Doran, a post he held until 1951. During the era of Moon's tenure at Doubleday, the firm became the national leader in publishing fiction and non-fiction revealing the unfair treatment of African Americans, books written by some black and many white authors. At Doubleday, under the name "George L. Hack," Moon anonymously submitted his first book for publication.
Doubleday published Moon's novel, The Darker Brother, in 1943. The book established Moon's credentials as a leading liberal in race relations and, by extension, an expert in social and economic policy. In the book Moon showed the trademark of a devoted social realist; he was a politically inspired novelist interested almost exclusively in a sympathetic portrait of black working-class life. The Darker Brother offered an interior viewpoint of racial segregation and showed black discontent as a general rather than isolated feature. In particular, Moon offered one of the earliest portraits of the recalcitrance and venom of economic race prejudice in the urban North. Like Carson McCullers through her portraits of African Americans in The Heart is the Lonely Hunter, Moon used black dialect solely as a means to create characters, not to humorously reinforce ideas of racial difference. Beyond that, his tale was a black love story that occurred in the face of northern discrimination.
The Darker Brother was the narrative of a Florida family moving to Harlem. Widow Essie Mae takes her children Ben and Josie to live with her husband's brother Rafe. Soon enough, race prejudice begins to destroy them. Ben is beaten by whites at his interracial school and thus befriends neighborhood homeboy Slick, a youth whose ambition has already been crushed by poverty and discrimination. The conditions in Harlem...