Abstract Often acknowledged as Alice Childress’s most important drama, Wedding Band: A Love/Hate Story in Black and White (first performed in 1966) is less studied as an intervention into black literary nationalism. This essay argues for Wedding Band’s centrality to the Black Arts Movement. Troubling the caricatured version of Black Arts as monolithically sexist, this essay contends that Childress scripts two significant challenges to masculinist articulations of black solidarity. First, Wedding Band centers women’s community, and African American women’s well-being, as the critical foundation on which to construct the black nation. Childress anticipates the black feminist politics of Toni Cade Bambara’s foundational black feminist anthology, The Black Woman (1970), in imagining a Black Power feminist politics that prizes what I term kinship gestures as a central tactic in nation-building. Second, and more controversially, the play confronts Black Power-era ideology by rendering a nuanced portrait of an interracial love affair between an African American woman and a white man. Set in the Garvey era but premiering in the 1970s, Wedding Band assesses both the possibilities and limitations of twentieth-century black nationalisms for women. Ultimately, Wedding Band privileges female kinship rather than male leadership, moving black nationalism away from heteropatriarchal conceptions of black solidarity by representing female community as a mode of progressive nation-building. Alice Childress’s Wedding Band: A Love/Hate Story in Black and White (1973; first performed in 1966) explores the legal, economic, and social barriers faced by interracial lovers in World War I-era South Carolina. Rosemary Curb maintains that, of all of Childress’s work, “Wedding Band is her finest and most serious piece of literature and deserves comparison with the most celebrated American tragedies” (65). Wedding Band, Childress’s major drama of the 1960s, is an innovative work of African American women’s historical playwriting and a precursor to contemporary plays by Pearl Cleage and Lynn Nottage, whose drama often centers on African American women’s communities. Traditionally interpreted as a historical drama, Wedding Band has gone largely unacknowledged as a significant work of Black Power-era black literary nationalism.1 Childress’s drama engages with what James Smethurst identifies as the defining principle of the Black Arts Movement (BAM): “[A] belief that African Americans were a people, a nation, entitled to (needing, really) self-determination of its own destiny” (15). The play confronts the gender politics of that era’s black nationalism through the historical lens of the World War I era.2 Childress yokes together what Adam Ewing calls “the Age of Garvey” (5) with what might be named “the era of Malcolm X.” At the same time, Childress privileges female kinship rather than male leadership, moving black nationalism away from heteropatriarchal conceptions of black solidarity by representing female community as a mode of progressive nation-building. Written in the early 1960s, Wedding Band premiered in New York City in 1972 amid a cultural and political landscape that had been deeply influenced by the Black Arts and Black Power Movements. By that time, black nationalist orthodoxy had largely solidified in opposition to interracial love and sex. As tropes frequently deployed in BAM writing, interracial romance and interracial relationships were often used as surrogates through which to consolidate the history of black-white relations across the time and space of American history. Many BAM artists, especially Amiri Baraka and Sonia Sanchez in their dramatic work, depicted interracial sexual and romantic relationships as destructive to black bodies, black psyches, and black families. Interracialism was frequently portrayed as ruinous to the incipient black nation and incompatible with the process of nation-building. Childress, by representing a loving interracial couple in Wedding Band, contravened the implicit Black Power mandate to repudiate such emotional and sexual relationships. Wedding Band encountered immediate and vocal resistance for its focus on interracial romance; Mary Helen Washington notes that “a heckler in a dashiki made loud hostile remarks during the love scenes, almost spoiling opening night” (“Alice” 204). The dashiki-clad heckler, garbed in the symbolism of Afrocentric cultural nationalism, exemplifies the firm opposition of some Black Power adherents to sympathetic portrayals of love affairs between African Americans and whites. Wedding Band is a complex and somewhat unconventional reckoning with the racial politics of the 1960s and 1970s. The play’s simultaneous portrayal of feminist nationalism and its focus on an interracial love affair mounts two important challenges to masculinist articulations of Black Power. First, Wedding Band centers women’s community, and African American women’s well-being, as the critical foundation on which to construct the black nation. Like many Black Power feminists, including Gwendolyn Brooks, Nikki Giovanni, and Sanchez, Childress posits the domestic as a site of women’s revolutionary consciousness. Wedding Band revises the concept of the domestic, reimagining it as a site of feminist-nationalist autonomy rather than a site of oppression, as was often seen in depictions of black domestic workers employed in whites’ homes and kitchens. In the process, Wedding Band articulates an ethos of personal care that situates women’s private spaces and community-building alongside more public militancy as mutually constituting forms of Black Power activism. As I discuss later, Childress anticipates the black feminist politics of Toni Cade Bambara’s foundational black feminist anthology The Black Woman (1970) in imagining a Black Power feminist politics that prizes the construction of female kinship as a central tactic in nation-building. Second, and more controversially, Wedding Band confronts Black Power-era ideology by rendering a nuanced portrait of an interracial love affair between an African American woman and a white man. As Shane Trudell Verge persuasively argues, Wedding Band employs interracial love and sex “to challenge the contradictions between Black Nationalist ideology and practice, and to analyze the meanings and limits of race and community” (102). Wedding Band’s compassionate sketch of interracial lovers stands in opposition to many canonical theatrical works of the BAM, which depict destructive white woman-African American man relationships, such as Baraka’s Dutchman (1964) and The Slave (1964) and Sanchez’s searing indictments of such relationships in Sister Son/ji (1969) and Uh Huh: But How Do It Free Us? (1974). Less explored in BAM drama are the dynamics between African American women and white men. While Sanchez’s The Bronx is Next (1968) offers a sympathetic portrait of an African American woman involved with a white police officer, to whom she turns for solace and financial support, the play does not necessarily pardon such behavior. In much Black Arts literature, interracial trysts are figured as counterrevolutionary since they prevent black love from taking root in the community. In many ways, Wedding Band conforms to other BAM-era deployments of the trope of interracial love, in that Julia and Herman’s relationship seems to distill the destructive history of race relations in the United States into a single romance. Yet, Wedding Band acknowledges the multidimensional nature of American race relations. The play’s somewhat unwieldy subtitle—A Love/Hate Story in Black and White—discloses the “dialectical flickering” (to borrow a phrase from Eric Lott) of these affective states (Love 18). Indeed, when discussing “white folks,” Julia notes, “There are days when I love, days when I hate” (Childress, Wedding 128). Childress portrays love and hate as imbricated and dialectical emotions in Wedding Band, at least as they pertain to interracial relationships. Childress’s multifaceted representation of the racial and gender politics of the Black Power era demands a reconsideration of the Black Arts Movement. Not only does Childress center a racialized and gendered consciousness in nation-building but she also questions the “common assumptions about the homogeneity of Black Nationalism and the Black Power Movement” (Verge 102). Although the BAM is often represented as uniformly masculinist, playwriting by Childress contradicts this version of black radicalism and affirms the contention by feminist scholars of Black Arts that feminist literature was a central component of the movement from the start, rather than a mere reaction to sexism.3Wedding Band’s representation of feminist nation-building also confirms recent scholarship demonstrating that black feminists such as Childress were important early theorists of Black Power nationalism, a much more flexible, diverse system of thought than has often been acknowledged.4 Robin D. G. Kelley argues that it is “a mistake to read radical black feminism as a negative response to black male sexism within the movement.” Rather, Kelley contends, “black feminism’s core vision grows out of a very long history of black women attempting to solve the general problems of the race but doing so by analyzing and speaking from both ‘public’ and ‘private’ realms” (138). A dialectic model, one that highlights the struggle over the means and goals of black nation-building, especially when it comes to questions of gender and women’s roles in the movement, might be a more suitable approach to framing the BAM, a movement that African American women and men cocreated. Gendered Consciousness in the Age of Garvey and the Era of Malcolm X In the 1960s, Childress entered a period of writing characterized by a sustained engagement with twentieth-century black nationalism, both its historical manifestations in Garveyism and its contemporary emergence in the Black Power era.5 Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, Childress was deeply committed to leftist politics and stressed the need for interracial alliances among the working class.6 In 1955’s Trouble in Mind, for example, Childress’s protagonist links her anti-racist protest to the anti-colonial home rule movement in Ireland propounded by a white character. Childress’s first dramatic foray into Black Power politics, Wedding Band typifies the new period in her writing in its more explicit embrace of strategic racial separatism. Wedding Band navigates the new wave of black nationalism by turning to its earlier manifestation in World War I-era Garveyism. The play’s setting in 1918 implicitly engages with the “Age of Garvey,” which, according to Ewing, encompasses the “peak organization years of the UNIA [Universal Negro Improvement Association], roughly 1919 to 1924” and Garveyism’s enduring resonance for black nationalists throughout the twentieth century (5). As with other BAM plays that return to the sites of black diasporic history—such as Baraka’s Slave Ship (1967) and Adrienne Kennedy’s Funnyhouse of a Negro (1964)—Wedding Band turns to the past as a way of reconceiving the present revolutionary moment. By condensing the Garvey era (the play’s setting) with the Black Power era (the play’s production context), Childress demonstrates that masculinist articulations of nationalism have historically neglected African American women’s particular oppression while also highlighting the history of black women who have forged the most liberatory, personally useful versions of black nationalism. Wedding Band suggests that masculinist black nationalism has failed and will continue to do so when it ignores women and downplays the intersectional subjugation of African American women. Garveyism had a deep and lasting impact on the nationalism of the 1960s and 1970s and was a historical forbear for Black Power activists. Black Power-era radicals found inspiration in the prophetic, revolutionary nationalism Garvey advocated in calling for “liberty or death” for black people worldwide (“Editorial” 391). Even when writing from “The Tombs” prison (for mail fraud charges stemming from his failed Black Star shipping line), Garvey’s vision remained undimmed: “The Negro needs a nation and country of his own, where he can best show evidence of his own ability in the art of human progress” (“Appeal” 140). As Steven Hahn shows, Garvey’s appeal for African Americans was situated less in his call for “repatriation” to Africa and more in his promotion of “self-governance and separatism,” which “enlivened Garvey’s projects for African Americans whose parents had been born into slavery” (138). Self-determination was likewise the central axis of the Black Arts and Power Movements, which were shaped by Garvey’s tireless campaign for international black nationalism and his advocacy of race pride. In many ways, the Black Power Movement was less a renaissance of a long-forgotten Garveyism than it was a direct descendent. As Erik McDuffie demonstrates, Garvey’s influence in the Midwest (birthplace of the Nation of Islam [NOI]), meant that “Garveyism endured in the NOI and found some of its strongest support in Chicago and Detroit” (“Chicago” 140), an influence that rippled outward to areas across the country, most notably through Malcolm X. A child of Garveyites, Malcolm X championed Garvey’s visionary internationalism, declaring, “every time you see another nation on the African continent become independent, you know that Marcus Garvey is alive” (qtd. in Taylor 229). As established in recent studies by Ula Taylor and Rhonda Williams, the flame of Garveyism was kept burning “well into the 1960s” by Garvey’s second wife, Amy Jacques Garvey (Williams 20). In essays and interviews, Jacques Garvey pointed to the major influence her late husband had on Malcom X and Martin Luther King, Jr., and she hailed the Black Power insurgency within the Civil Rights Movement, calling them a “younger group of freedom fighters” (qtd. in Taylor 228). Like Malcolm X, Childress “was exposed to Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) at an early age” (Higashida 87). Garveyism’s influence can be seen in Childress’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated novel A Short Walk (1979), in which Garvey appears as a minor character and which may be seen as a companion piece to Wedding Band. The novel follows the working-class African American character Cora James in her “short walk” through life, from her birth in South Carolina at the turn of the twentieth century to her death during World War II. Cora experiences the deprivations of the Jim Crow South and the urban ghettoes of the North while struggling in relationships with men, first with an abusive husband and then with a man so committed to Garvey’s UNIA that he ignores and mistreats Cora and their daughter. Childress thus emphasizes that Garveyism, or any nationalism, must be practiced in one’s personal relationships, a critique that Wedding Band also takes up. Cheryl Higashida interprets A Short Walk as in part a feminist assessment of Garveyism that illustrates how working-class African American women were “suppressed and excluded” by Garvey’s movement (95).7 Wedding Band likewise articulates misgivings when it comes to Garvey’s and other nationalists’ tendency to advocate masculinism while endorsing black nationalist separatism. The play draws subtle parallels between its fictional World War I-era community and the drama’s contemporary 1960s-1970s-era production, largely through its sole African American male character, Nelson Green, a soldier who has been radicalized by his experiences with racism both in and outside the military. At the same time, the drama’s silence on the person of Garvey, Garveyism, and the UNIA, none of which is mentioned in the play, suggests that Childress is more invested in constructing an alternative history of black nationalist feminism than in limning the contours of hierarchal male leadership. Avoiding a “top-down narrative of Great Man leadership,” which Erica Edwards sees as “one of the central fictions of black American politics,” Wedding Band instead represents “the arduous, undocumented efforts of ordinary women, men and children to remake their social reality” (XV). The turn in recent black freedom studies to women, community groups, and the grassroots, rather than male leaders, has its antecedent in Childress and other black feminist writers, who pointed the way to a liberatory politics through women’s labor of community-building.8 In remembering the mundane, domestic work of nation-building, Childress engages in a critical feminist historiography of black nationalism. Centering the ordinary and the working-class women in Wedding Band, while avoiding mention of (but alluding to) Garveyism, allows Childress to circumvent a depiction of the often patriarchal and hierarchal leadership of male-driven organizations. Kinship in Wedding Band: A Love Story in Black Wedding Band depicts protagonist Julia Augustine’s first few days in a new neighborhood comprised of a small community of women in a coastal South Carolina town. The conflict at the heart of the play arises from Julia’s relationship with Herman, a white man. Since both characters are working class—Julia is a seamstress and Herman is a baker—they have long postponed an expensive relocation to the North, where they might be legally married. The entrance of Herman and his racist family members into Julia’s community causes a crisis for Julia’s neighbors, who must contend with the repercussions of the interracial love affair on their lives, including possible surveillance and imprisonment by the (offstage) white community on the boundaries of their neighborhood. Julia and Herman’s relationship thus inevitably implicates their respective communities. It also incorporates the characters’ corresponding racial epistemologies; for example, despite her love for Herman, Julia has trouble disassociating him from the historical fact of white supremacist violence. For his part, Herman denies Julia’s attempt to pinpoint racism’s effects on her life by asking Julia to call whites merely “people” rather than “white folks”—thus denying white privilege and systemic racism through an appeal to color-blindness (Childress, Wedding 140). Furthermore, Herman believes that Julia is “not like the others” (161), suggesting a strain of anti-black racism unaffected by his love for her. Through these interactions, Childress suggests that no interracial relationship is free from embedded racial histories. Thus, when Herman succumbs to a serious flu and dies in Julia’s bed, it is both a tragedy for Julia and a moment of liberation that frees her of the damage that Herman’s racial kin—or, as Julia labels them, “Kinsmen! Klansmen!” (162)—have done to her and her people. As Julia comes to terms with the burdens of her interracial relationship, she finds a communal mode of living among African American women who provide one another with emotional, physical, and economic support, forming a critical network of kinship that provides some measure of fortification against racist subjugation. Julia “relies on an extended family model,” which is, at the same time, “not tethered to the romance theme that exists to reproduce the nuclear family unit” (Allen 162).9 Through her representation of female kinship, Childress revises what Paul Gilroy calls the black nationalist “trope of the family” (194), moving it away from a heteropatriarchal model. As Madhu Dubey has demonstrated in her work on African American female novelists, heteronormative and masculinist iterations of black nationalism “endorsed the gendered division of labor and the definitions of masculine and feminine identity that characterize white middle-class familial ideology” (19), especially in replicating the idea of men as the “natural” leaders of women (18). Wedding Band’s community reproduces the central tenet of most iterations of black nationalism—self-determination—while simultaneously challenging race-as-family models that viewed men as the putative leaders of the racial and nuclear family. Wedding Band entered a critical black feminist discourse—represented principally by Bambara’s black feminist anthology The Black Woman—that refuted notions that African American women’s extended kinship structures were, on the one hand, “pathological” and “matriarchal” (as the infamous “Moynihan Report” would have it), or, on the other, emasculating to African American men (as masculinist black nationalist rhetoric insisted).10 Instead, Childress and Black Power-era feminists advanced an affirmative view of female kinship, imagining a community built on love between people of the African Diaspora as the basis for liberation. The first scene of Wedding Band establishes the centrality of women’s community to the subsequent play, opening not on the interracial lovers Julia and Herman but rather on Julia’s African American female neighbors. As Wedding Band begins, Julia settles into her new neighborhood, composed of three small homes on landlady Fanny Johnson’s property (whose house is offstage, giving a greater emphasis to the nonpropertied renters). The tenants of the other properties are Mattie, who makes and sells candy to earn what little money she can to support herself and her daughter Teeta, and Lula, a middle-aged preacher and mother to Nelson. Although Julia is at first somewhat taken aback by the propinquity of her new neighbors, she also seeks refuge from loneliness. We learn that in order to keep her illegal, interracial relationship a secret, Julia has moved from one secluded home to another. Isolated from all society, Julia has begun to engage in self-destructive behaviors; when Herman hints that she drinks too much wine, Julia retorts: “I don’t go anywhere, I don’t know anybody, I gotta do somethin’” (Childress, Wedding 141). Having a secret relationship has secluded Julia, but by deliberately settling in this neighborhood, which is both close-knit and spatially condensed, Julia allows herself the possibility of community with a group of African American women. The play’s introductory moments depict the chaos and coming together typical of Wedding Band’s female community, a scene that also reveals the women’s interdependency. When Teeta misplaces money necessary for supplies in Mattie’s candy-making business—“the only quarter I got to my name,” Mattie notes (118)—it spurs both hurtful and healing moments. The religious Lula prays to God to help them find the quarter, while Fanny insults and degrades Mattie. Subscribing to the politics of respectability, Fanny disapproves of Mattie’s boisterous, public display when searching for the money.11 Julia proves her willingness to enter and help repair this temporary rupture in the community by providing Mattie with a quarter. Since Teeta had dropped the quarter under Julia’s porch, Julia tells Mattie that “I have [your quarter] under my house for good luck” (120). Not wanting to injure Mattie’s pride by forcing her to accept what could be considered charity, Julia frames this moment as a fair economic exchange. As a seamstress, Julia’s skilled labor allows her more economic security than Mattie enjoys, but Julia uses this opportunity to cut across such subtle class differences that might otherwise divide them. As Fanny’s disapproval indicates, Wedding Band’s community is not without intraracial discord, neither flattening out all women into “sisters” nor creating a homogenous black nation. Ideological variations of black nationalism are represented by the neighborhood women: the landlady Fanny is a black capitalist—“the first and only colored they let buy land ’round here,” she asserts proudly (147)—who is sometimes cruel to other African Americans but is also shrewd in dealing with whites. Fanny collaborates (even colludes) with whites when it suits her, but she is also a fierce advocate of “community control,” the term that William Van Deburg employs to demarcate black autonomy within the existing political and capitalist structures of the United States (112). Among the more radical of Julia’s neighbors are Lula, a cultural nationalist, who founds her own church and performs a “Carolina folk dance passed on from some dimly remembered African beginning” (Childress, Wedding 168). Like Maulana Karenga and his US organization, Lula establishes new religious and cultural rituals for her community that are also grounded in an ancestral African past. Mattie is something akin to a territorial nationalist, who believed “black colonies would . . . compose a ‘nation within a nation’” (Van Deburg 139). Mattie protectively monitors the boundaries of their neighborhood as best she can: “We don’t tell things to police,” she warns Julia (Childress, Wedding 146). Despite these distinctive, even conflicting, nationalist philosophies, Julia and her neighbors hold one another up in a kinship network. Finding strength in this ideologically heterogeneous community, Julia is increasingly able to openly protest racism as she comes to terms with her white lover’s racist family. In order to survive in a white supremacist, patriarchal society, Wedding Band suggests, African American women must form their own supportive and loving communities, their own nation.12 Like many Black Arts feminist writers, Childress “challenges the notion that political writing must be spoken by a public, communal voice or take overtly disruptive form” (Frost 92). Childress depicts African American female protagonists who eschew explicitly political or clearly militant forms of activism altogether, instead articulating protest in the form of private, emotion-driven interpersonal exchanges. Courtney Thorsson locates a similar “black aesthetic of the domestic” (“Gwendolyn” 150) in the poems of civil rights-Black Arts poet Gwendolyn Brooks that portray “individual, private experience as a sphere of black agency with broad communal implications” and that “occur mostly in domestic space” (149). Childress valorizes the personal and the domestic over the public and the militant, engaging in a black aesthetic of the domestic by transferring the site of nationalism from the public to the domestic realm. Wedding Band’s characters enact just such a black aesthetic of the domestic in undertaking the labor of kinship. The women of the neighborhood communally care for eight-year-old Teeta when Mattie must leave the neighborhood, usually to operate her candy-making business. The “motherly” Lula watches over Teeta, but so, too, does Fanny, no lover of children, and both women scold Teeta when they feel she has stepped out of line or is in danger (Childress, Wedding 119). Julia is symbolically adopted into the neighborhood when Mattie leaves her in charge of Teeta’s care. Trusting some of her precious little money to Julia—“[c]ase of emergency I don’t like Teeta to be broke” (123)—Mattie welcomes Julia into their community. Now in Julia’s care, Teeta begins sweeping the area in front of Julia’s house, silently offering a form of domestic nurturing that helps to bond them as family. These enactments of what I term kinship gestures are performed by all the African American women characters and first transpire during the opening moments of the play, well before Julia’s white lover, Herman, is introduced. Childress’s plotting suggests that Julia’s newfound community is the site on which Wedding Band’s radical politics will be erected. The bond between Julia and Mattie is further solidified through kinship gestures when, as a kindness to the illiterate Mattie, Julia reads a letter from October, Mattie’s husband, who is at sea with the Merchant Marines. As Julia begins to read October’s words, Lula joins them on the porch and the letter reading becomes collective, “the women’s voices turning a private, written text back into a communal text” (Wiley 191). Mattie symbolically invites both Julia and Lula into her immediate family structure by sharing the intimate letter. During the reading, Julia and Mattie quickly fall into a call-and-response pattern of communication. As Carol Allen and Nghana Lewis have noted, Childress uses orality and musicality as “aesthetic frames” in her drama, forms that have often been overlooked in criticism about Childress (Allen 132). The call-and-response allows Mattie to feel as if she is speaking with her husband: Julia [reads]: I be missin’ you all the time Mattie: And we miss you. Julia [reads]: Sorry we did not have our picture taken. Mattie: Didn’t have the money. Julia [reads]: Would like to show one to the men and say this is my wife and child . . . (Childress, Wedding 131) Lewis interprets this moment musically, noting that the letter reading brings women together in “harmony” and “lyrical kinship” (90). By fitting into the African American cultural “frame” of call-and-response, Julia symbolically aligns with her community. October’s letter also conveys information that his Merchant Marine benefits are not forthcoming and asks Mattie to “[g]o to the Merchant Marine office and push things from your end.” Mattie agrees: “Monday. Lula, le’s [sic] go Monday” (Childress, Wedding 131). That Lula would accompany Mattie emphasizes that a heteronormative, private family structure is broken down in favor of a wider kinship network among women. Like Julia, Lula is willing to help Mattie with her dire economic circumstances and in navigating the bureaucracy of the military benefits system. Since we have learned that October is forced into menial labor on his ship (he “peels potatoes,” according to Teeta ), and, further, since we know that his fellow Merchant Marines are openly racist, the audience can surmise that Mattie will encounter racism at the office. Lula’s emotional support is vital to Mattie’s economic and emotional security, even survival. In representing such female kinship gestures, Wedding Band entered into an ongoing and vigorous debate about gender roles and their relationship to the revolution during the Black Power era. A central trope of Black Power nationalism, kinship made revolution a “family affair,” bringing women and men from across the diaspora into a racialized family structure (Crawford, “Must” 185). What GerShun Avilez terms the “Blackness-as-kinship paradigm” was a practical foundation for nationalist ideology, for, in conceiving of black men and women as “brothers” and “sisters,” black people were bound to one another, with whites excluded from family matters (63). Yet, as Gilroy has argued, the trope of the family has also often been wielded for patriarchal objectives in order to “rebuild the race by instituting appropriate forms of masculinity and male authority,” with the male as the head of both the nuclear and racial family (204). Wedding Band both adopts and revises the trope of kinship, a strategy that Avilez terms “disruptive inhabiting,” a process by which “Black Arts era artists inhabit the nationalist pressure point [unity] to expose its limits” (62).13 Black feminists’ disruptive inhabiting of the racial kinship trope is central to Bambara’s anthology The Black Woman, which Farah Jasmine Griffin considers the “founding text of contemporary black women’s thought” (116).14 Bambara’s black feminist consciousness was shaped by Childress’s writing, and The Black Woman bears the marks of Childress’s generation of radical black feminists, most notably in the collection’s attention to working-class women.15 As an index of Black Power feminism, The Black Woman demonstrates how essential the notion of kinship was to understandings of black liberation and how black feminists critically inhabited and revised the trope of kinship. The contributors, who include some of the most prominent black feminist authors of the era (Giovanni, Audre Lorde, Paule Marshall, and Alice Walker) and grassroots activists and theorists, consistently figure kin relationships as the primary site of nation-building and daily revolutionary practice rather than an abstract trope of racial belonging. Bambara, for example, calls on male Black Power militants to “fashion revolutionary selves, revolutionary lives, revolutionary relationships” by attending to interpersonal affairs: “Running off to mimeograph a fuck-whitey leaflet, leaving your mate to brood is not revolutionary. Hopping a plane to rap to someone else’s ‘community’ while your son struggles alone with the Junior Scholastic assignment on ‘The Dark Continent’ is not revolutionary” (“On” 134). Bambara calls for gender equality in “brooding,” raising children, which will also prevent a woman’s “brooding,” depressive mental state. Bambara’s hypothetical, racist homework assignment on “The Dark Continent” suggests that revolutionary consciousness-building should begin at home with one’s children rather than with strangers a plane ride away. Bambara concludes: “The revolution ain’t out there. Yet. But it is here” (135). Throughout The Black Woman, kinship gestures of familial care, as mundane as homework, are valorized alongside public and political militancy. Bambara’s goal in collecting the poems, stories, and essays that make up The Black Woman was to assemble documents about African American women written by African American women, “defying the outside ‘experts,’ whether white or black men,” including psychologists, biologists, fiction writers, and others (particularly Daniel Patrick Moynihan) who contributed to distorted images of African American women (Crawford, “Must” 188). In order to move away from such definitions, The Black Woman represents a strategically separate textual space. Bambara writes that what “characterizes the current movement of the 60s is a turning away from the larger society and a turning toward each other” and “an embrace of the community and a hardheaded attempt to get basic with each other.” Bambara’s anthology is a space of nationalist separatism, necessary for women “to find out what liberation for ourselves means”—a discovery process that she terms the “first job” of black liberation (Preface 1). Wedding Band portrays women in the process of “turning toward each other” and moving away from interracial relationships, and even African American men when necessary, in order to find emotional sustenance in a racist and patriarchal society. As Act II progresses, Julia’s “embrace of the community” becomes as much the love story of the play’s subtitle, A Love/Hate Story in Black and White, as her relationship with Herman. Yet Julia’s moving toward community and away from Herman is neither uncomplicated nor an unalloyed improvement in her life. Wedding Band depicts the intricacies of interracialism by repudiating the notion that all such relationships were inherently destructive or exploitative—an idea that circulated within the Black Arts Movement and one that is voiced in the play by Julia’s neighbors. Mattie and Lula historicize Julia and Herman’s relationship, reminding Julia of how “that low-down slave master sent for a different black woman every night,” which is why Lula “couldn’t stand one of ’em to touch me,” while Mattie, assuming Herman is a rich white man, advises Julia to “[r]ob him blind. Take it all” (Childress, Wedding 133). Mattie and Lula cannot conceptualize interracial relationships outside of African American women’s mistreatment by white men. Still, Julia and Herman sincerely love one another. Wedding Band thus wrestles with a fundamental question during the civil rights and Black Power periods: whether to work together with well-meaning white racial liberals (as Herman is depicted) or to sever ties with whites, who bring both personal prejudice and the history of white supremacy into black communities. Julia struggles with the choice of whether or not to go north with Herman and claim her right to marry whomever she pleases or to remain among her racially separate community, which provides her with a psychological bulwark against racist degradation. Julia and Herman’s relationship indexes the transitionary period between the civil rights and Black Power eras. For the nonviolent phase of the Southern Civil Rights Movement, agitation for equal protection under the law according to the Fourteenth Amendment was a paramount goal. The right to marry across the color line was affirmed in the landmark civil rights case Loving v. Virginia of 1967, which Wedding Band predates and which declared state bans on interracial marriage unconstitutional. However, the growing Black Power insurgency began to articulate a divergence from such juridical strategies and the objective of desegregation, strongly advocating for separatist black organizations. The tension that Childress identifies between fighting for desegregation and fighting for an autonomous black community was replicated in prominent civil-rights organizations, such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), whose internal disputes over self-determination led them to expel their white members following “intense and tortured deliberation” during a 1966 meeting (Joseph 167).16 Julia faces an impossible decision: choose her lover, Herman, whose family’s presence disrupts and threatens her community, or leave Herman and commit herself to the women in her newfound nation. This conundrum is largely solved when Herman dies, a dramaturgical tactic that in some way lets Childress skirt these tangled issues. Yet, earlier in the play, Julia indicates that her community has become the most important facet of her life. In one of the play’s most significant moments, Julia unites with her neighbors by reinvesting the drama’s central symbol, the wedding band, with new meaning. Herman had previously presented Julia the ring on a necklace to wear under her clothing—since they could not be openly engaged—in a moment of embarrassed secrecy: “It’s a wedding band . . . on a chain [. . .] It’s what you wanted, Julia. A damn fool present” (Childress, Wedding 139). The fact that the wedding band is on a chain is, as E. Barnsley Brown argues, evocative of slavery (144) and a reminder that any relationship with a white man is entangled with traumatic racial history. Indeed, if Julia is discovered in this relationship, she could be sent to prison. As the central symbol of marriage in Wedding Band, the ring is less attached to matrimony than to imprisonment and slavery. Near the play’s climax, Julia redefines the wedding band’s dubious symbolism by presenting it to Mattie, who does not have a ring to honor her commitment to October. Julia and Herman’s struggles against anti-miscegenation laws are mirrored by Mattie’s and October’s own legal complications. Since Mattie was previously married, and the state does not sanction divorce, Mattie’s union with October is considered illegal, which prevents her from obtaining his Merchant Marine benefits. As with Julia and Herman, marriage laws oppress Mattie, whose previous husband had physically and emotionally abused her. Yet, her marriage to October is valid to her, if not the state: “Readin’ from the Bible makes people married,” Mattie argues, “not no piece-a paper” (Childress, Wedding 165). Here, Mattie articulates a philosophy of self-determination through which her African American community might sanction divorce and marriage rather than ceding that function to the repressive power of the state. Julia also gives Mattie two boat tickets to the North, tickets that Herman had earlier presented to Julia with a proposal to elope. Mattie, who had planned on moving with October and Teeta to Philadelphia after the war, might now claim her right to marriage, a right that Julia has been denied. By giving away Herman’s ring and boat tickets, Julia figuratively disassociates from her relationship with a white man even before Herman’s death marks the conclusion of their relationship. Julia establishes her preference for an open commitment to community rather than a secret engagement by supporting Mattie’s steps toward legal marriage and economic security. When Mattie protests the gifts, Julia insists: “You and Teeta are my family. Be my family.” Wedding Band’s “love story” thus progresses from an interracial, romantic coupling to the union of African American women as part of a symbolic, homosocial family. Julia tells Mattie, “You and Teeta are my people,” and Mattie responds affirmatively, “We your people whether we blood kin or not” (176), drawing on the two meanings of “people” as related both by family and by race. Wedding Band redefines kinship, bringing African American women together in a symbolic racial sisterhood. Confronting Racism: A Love/Hate Story in Black and White If Julia’s increasing kinship with her neighbors is part of the play’s “love story,” her relationship with almost all white characters, save Herman, constitutes the play’s “hate story.” For Julia, black nationalism is most practical when it allows her to combat the racism and degradation she experiences when whites enter her community. There are five white characters in Wedding Band: Herman; his mother and sister; the “Bell Man,” a door-to-door salesman; and Princess, a white child who Mattie cares for (and who attempts to dominate Teeta). These characters have much more freedom of movement than the African American characters and usually come unbidden into the women’s community. The Bell Man is particularly predatory. Although Julia is increasingly willing to protest white intrusion into her life and home, an early encounter with the Bell Man shows that, near the beginning of the play, she either does not or cannot forcefully resist whites. The salesman invades Julia’s house and “pants and wheezes out his admiration for her” while suggestively taking a place on her bed. Hinting that Julia is a prostitute, the Bell Man offers Julia stockings if she will “’commodate” him. Although Julia vehemently objects, she also attempts to “keep her voice down” and is seemingly unwilling or unable to publicly protest the offense (127). Julia is forced into further confrontations when Herman’s family arrives at her home. After Herman falls ill due to the 1918 flu pandemic, Julia encounters his family in person for the first time in her decade-long relationship. Herman’s sister, Annabelle, and mother, Frieda, arrive at Julia’s and attempt to escort Herman home clandestinely. Julia is hesitant to call for a doctor, who might report the interracial pair to the police. A German immigrant, Frieda is desperate to avoid a scandal that would jeopardize her ascent to the white middle class, a climb made tenuous by World War I-era anti-German sentiment. Fanny is also reluctant to send for a doctor, believing that people will think she operates a “bad house” (146). As these predicaments show, Herman’s presence in Julia’s home could cause distress, scandal, or worse. In order to aid Herman, then, Julia must attempt to negotiate with Herman’s racist family. When Frieda and Annabelle first arrive, they immediately endeavor to establish their superiority over Julia and her neighbors. Although Frieda is a “poor white,” according to Childress’s stage directions, she also “tries to assume the airs of ‘quality’” (154). First ignoring then insulting Julia, Frieda echoes the Bell Man by insinuating that Julia is a prostitute and attempts to purchase her silence with money. As many critics have noted, Julia fights back through black feminist anger directed at Frieda. La Vinia Delois Jennings observes that Childress scripts a politically driven anger that “liberates Julia” (“Segregated” 51). Likewise noting “the productive power in anger” in Childress’s plays, Soyica Diggs Colbert contends that Childress employs a “formal strategy of confrontational dialogue” in her plays (“Dialectical” 31), as seen in Julia’s confrontation with Frieda: Herman’s Mother: Black, sassy nigger! Julia: Kraut, knuckle-eater, red-neck . . . Herman’s Mother: Nigger whore . . . he used you for a garbage pail . . . Julia: White trash! Sharecropper! Let him die . . . let ’em all die . . . Kill him with your murderin’ mouth—sharecropper bitch! Herman’s Mother: Dirty black nigger . . . (Childress, Wedding 162) The hate and anger Julia feels for Herman’s mother subsequently extend to whiteness in general. At the close of the above scene, Julia angrily pledges to “get down on my knees and scrub where they walked [. . .] with brown soap . . . hot lye-water . . . scaldin’ hot . . . Clean! . . . Clean the whiteness outta my house” (162-63). Julia vows to symbolically eradicate whiteness with a purifying brown. When Frieda and Annabelle arrive a second time, Julia finally protests their intrusion, moving beyond anger and into calm resolution. Just moments after symbolically uniting with Mattie, Julia bars the white women’s entry, asserting that “[n]obody comes in my house” before closing and bolting the door. The stage directions read: “Julia silently stares at them, studying each woman, seeing them with new eyes. She is going through that rising process wherein she must reject them as the molders and dictators of her life” (176). Childress’s apposition of these scenes—Julia giving Mattie the wedding ring and her final, forceful protest—indicates that Julia’s community empowers her to stage a one-woman protest against the white “dictators of her life” and gives her the authority to delineate how she and the dying Herman will conclude their life together. The formation of a black feminist community, which Julia and her neighbors have built over the course of Wedding Band, endows Julia with the strength to protect the boundaries of her home and her psyche against white racism. Wedding Band emphasizes that the preservation of African American women’s interiority, made literal in the metaphor of Julia’s home, was as important to Black Power as male militancy.17 Herman’s death scene represents the symbolic, final severing of interracial romantic relationships in Wedding Band. This scene is also a deeply ambivalent conclusion that speaks to the subtitle’s flickering between “love/hate,” the slash indicating the entangled, divided race relations explored in the play. As Herman lies dying in Julia’s bed, she attempts to comfort him with a travel narrative that imagines the end of racial division: “We’re standin’ on the deck-a that Clyde Line boat . . . wavin’ to the people on the shore . . . Your mama, Annabelle, my Aunt Cora [. . .] all wavin’ . . . ‘Don’t stay ’way too long . . . Be sure and come back . . . We gon’ miss you’” (177). Julia’s vision of racial solidarity remains a fantasy that can be imagined but not attained. Still unmarried to Julia, Herman dies a moment later, which apparently forecloses hope for interracial union in Wedding Band.18 To be sure, this death is tragic, as Julia clearly loved Herman, yet Childress scripts a more complex ending. As Herman dies, the stage directions note of Julia: “The weight has lifted, she is radiantly happy. She helps him gasp out each remaining breath. With each gasp he seems to draw a step nearer to a wonderful goal.” Julia repeats the word “yes” six times, seeming to affirm his death (177). Julia’s joy in this moment, her feeling of a “weight” being “lifted,” indicates the horrible encumbrance of her interracial relationship. Herman’s death is a tragedy, but it also liberates Julia to begin a new life among her newfound kin, free of the racism of Herman’s family. “You Fightin’ Me, Me, Me, Not Them”: Julia and Nelson on the Frontlines If Julia’s and Herman’s relationship allows Childress to explore the entanglement of love and hate in interracial relationships, Julia’s interactions with the play’s sole black male character sketches some of the complexities of intraracial male and female alliances in the Black Power era. Through the soldier character Nelson Green, Lula’s son, Childress explores black nationalist activism in the post-World War I period, which was, in part, spurred by racism against African American soldiers. In addition to historical resonances with African American activists during World War I, Nelson’s character serves as a proxy for men of the 1960s-1970s who attempted to control African American women’s sexuality, reproduction, and romantic relationships. Early in the play, Nelson lashes out at Julia for her relationship with Herman: “He got nothin’ for you . . . but some meat and gravy or a new petticoat . . . or maybe he can give you meriny-lookin’ little bastard chirrun for us to take in and raise up” (154). Insinuating that Julia is in a relationship with Herman to gain material goods, Nelson here echoes the Bell Man, indicating, perhaps, that patriarchal attitudes originate in white racism. Unable to secure a date with Julia, Nelson quips about Herman, “Massa beat me to it” (136), positioning Julia as a sexual prize in a competition between men. While Nelson is correct when he points out a racialized double standard—white men, he remarks, “set us on fire ’bout their women” (153)—he has little compassion for Julia’s own struggles against patriarchal racism. Like Lula and Mattie, Nelson is at first unable or unwilling to comprehend Julia and Herman’s relationship outside of the historical dimensions of “massa” and enslaved woman, on one hand, or rich white man and opportunistic black mistress, on the other. Nelson’s sentiments find resonance in Black Power and Black Arts Movements’ discourse surrounding interracial relationships. Many BAM writers sought to position interracial love and sex within a history of white supremacist exploitation, internalized racism, and psychological distortion. As Larry Neal explains in his influential essay “The Black Arts Movement” (1968), BAM drama situates the black man-white woman relationship in a psychosexual-historical matrix of race relations, which are “symbolic of larger confrontations occurring between the Third World and Western society[,] . . . between the colonizer and the colonized, the slavemaster and the slave” (35). Wedding Band likewise conveys the idea that it is difficult if not impossible to disentangle interracial romantic relationships from the larger history of American racism. Nelson’s, Mattie’s, and Lula’s historicization efforts shame and hurt Julia, but they give voice to an important awareness about white men—that they have raped and sexually exploited black women, a knowledge designed to protect African American women and a lesson distilled in Julia’s interactions with the predatory Bell Man. Wedding Band also points out that intraracial relationships are not inherently free from exploitation and indicts black men who attempt to control black women’s sexual and romantic relationships. Nelson’s concern with Julia and Herman’s sexual relationship is revealed to be less about protecting Julia than it is about Nelson’s claim to patriarchal kinship structures. In order to “let the black man have his manhood again,” as a character in Childress’s often-satirical 1969 play Wine in the Wilderness says (197), some proponents of Black Power—represented in Wedding Band by Nelson—expected African Americans to adhere to a heteropatriarchal conception of the family in their political activism and personal lives. In this misogynistic family, women’s bodies paradoxically serve as the “medium for black male dreams of a nation-state,” while African American women’s authority is viewed as a threat to that very nation (Crawford 196). Indeed, women were expected to breed “warriors for the revolution” (Bambara, “Pill” 205). African American “sisters” were told, Bambara memorably writes, “to throw away the pill and hop to the mattresses and breed revolutionaries and mess up the man’s genocidal program” (204-05). (Bambara does not disagree that the state has carried on “genocide,” asserting that a “sterilization plan . . . has become ruthless policy for a great many state [welfare] agencies” . Rather, she objects to the directive to completely abandon birth control.) Concern over breeding is represented through Nelson’s anxiety about parentage; white men, he notes, are “only too glad to let us have their kinfolk. As it is, we supportin’ half-a the slave-master’s offspring right now” (Childress, Wedding 154). As Nelson does not help to raise Teeta, however, he is hypocritically less concerned with African American or mixed-race children than in controlling Julia’s sexual relationship with Herman. Still, Wedding Band portrays Nelson sympathetically, demonstrating that his bitterness concerning white men is rooted in historical racism faced by black soldiers. Nelson’s wartime service is viewed as patriotic by the African American women in his community, but his uniform is perceived as a threat to whites. Nelson is assaulted by a gang of whites who throw “a pail-a dirty water” on him for wearing his army uniform (122). The Bell Man threatens Nelson: “Don’t letcha uniform go to your head, boy, or you’ll end your days swingin’ from a tree” (167). The precipitous rise of Garvey’s black nationalism in this era has largely to do with the racist treatment of soldiers and the widespread disillusionment of African Americans with the promise of democracy during and after World War I. Garvey inveighed against the hypocrisy of national leaders who would “claim to be the dispensers of democracy” abroad but who remained passive at home while white lynch mobs attacked African Americans, in, for example, the July 1917 race riots of East St. Louis (Grant 101). In addressing the riots, Garvey asserted: The Negro in American history from the time of Crispus Attucks at Boston, the 10th Calvary at San Juan Hill, which saved the day for Roosevelt, up to the time when they stuck to Boyd at Carrizal, has demonstrated to the American Nation that he is as true as steel. Yet for all his services he receives the reward of lynching, burning and wholesale slaughter. (“Conspiracy” 241) Nelson’s character not only mirrors Garvey’s disillusionment with American democracy but also places him in a genealogy of black soldiers portrayed in African American literature who find that wartime service does not grant them full citizenship rights, from the Civil War period to the Korean and Vietnam Wars.19 Julia’s growing ability to protest others’ control of her life extends to her relationship with Nelson, as she declares: “They throw dirty water on your uniform . . . and you spit on me! [. . .] You fightin’ me, me, me, not them . . . never them.” Julia demands that he fight racist whites rather than African American women he incorrectly blames for the racism he encounters. Following this confrontation, Nelson encourages Julia to become more militant, admonishing her for allowing Herman’s mother to “run you out of your own house” (Childress, Wedding 154). Nelson moves from attempting to control Julia to providing her with a model of militancy that she employs in her protest against racism. Julia is in part inspired by Nelson when she makes her stand against white intrusion into her home. Childress locates Nelson and Julia together on the frontlines of the battle against white supremacy, having forged an approach that depends neither on patriarchal conceptions of women’s roles in the freedom fight nor on Julia and Nelson in a heterosexual pairing. By making equivalent Julia’s and Nelson’s protests against racism, Childress emphasizes that the particular manifestations of white supremacy that African American women must fight are no less important than those facing men, and that activism may be found in both public and private spaces. Conclusion Despite Childress’s significant interventions into black nationalist ideology, Wedding Band’s 1972 New York premiere was critiqued for its interracial romance—critiques that repeat Nelson’s attempt to limit Julia’s sexual agency. In addition to the aforementioned “heckler in a dashiki” (Washington, “Alice” 240), detractors of Wedding Band included novelist John O. Killens, hitherto Childress’s staunch supporter, who believed “that the heroine’s struggles for a relationship with a white man were the wrong politics for an era of intense militancy” (Washington, “Alice” 204). Killens’s assessment of Wedding Band conflates Julia’s interracial relationship with a regressive political stance, fundamentally incompatible with the “intense militancy” of Black Power ideology. At the same time, Killens ignores Childress’s feminist nationalism and the play’s construction of a model of African American women’s sexual agency that differs significantly from those depicted in many black militant dramas of the era. That Killens interpreted Wedding Band as falling outside the black militant shift of the 1960s is a problem that continues to plague interpretations of the play.20 Recovering Wedding Band as a play of the Black Arts Movement provides a more nuanced picture of “intense militancy” than has typically been allowed. Indeed, as Stephen Ward argues, black feminism “was not simply a critique of Black Power politics but, rather, a form of it” (120; emphasis added). The “form” that Childress’s contribution to Black Power takes is Wedding Band’s historical perspective on gendered discourse. A few years before the play’s New York debut, Childress illuminates what might be called her critical feminist historiography in a talk at The Negro Writer’s Vision of America conference in 1965, alongside panelists Marshall and Sarah E. Wright. In her talk, Childress draws on the intersectional theory she developed among her left-wing cultural circles of the World War II era to address the historical oppression of African American women: “[T]he American Negro woman has been particularly and deliberately oppressed, in slavery and up to and including the present moment” (“Negro” 294). Childress calls for a reclamation of feminist history and storytelling, one that properly recognizes the political vanguardism of the African American woman, who is “the most heroic figure to emerge on the American scene, with more stamina than that shown by any pioneer” (296).21 Yet, in the 1960s, the African American woman is told “she is too militant, so domineering, so aggressive, with son, husband and brother, that it is one of the chief reasons for any unexpressed manhood on the part of the Negro man in America” (293). Although Childress mentions neither the Moynihan Report nor black militants, her comments yoke them together as oppressing supposedly “matriarchal” African American women. Yet Childress posits that women have always stood on the frontlines of the fight against white supremacy: “The emancipated Negro woman of America . . . earned a pittance by washing, ironing, cooking, cleaning, and picking cotton. She helped her man, and if she often stood in the front line, it was to shield him from a mob of men organized and dedicated to bring about his total destruction” (296). In contrast to the stereotype of the masculinized matriarch, Childress asserts that African American women have been the preservers of the black family out of necessity rather than choice. In other words, women, who have historically been on the vanguard of the black freedom fight, need not be taught their oft-debated “role” or “position” in the movement. By collapsing the space and time of the Garvey Era with the Black Power moment, Wedding Band provides us with an innovative mode of assessing black nationalism through Childress’s critical black feminist historiography. Childress locates twentieth-century black nationalism’s utility not in a public-facing political program of militancy but in its effectiveness in addressing the emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical needs of women and children. Wedding Band should be read alongside other black feminist playwrights’ articulations of black nationalism, particularly 1960s-1970s work by Kennedy, Sanchez, and Ntozake Shange. Indeed, what happens when we center texts written by African American women at the heart of the BAM? Such positioning reveals that the movement was much more expansive, more liberatory, and more feminist than we have generally allowed. Furthermore, how might an attention to the domestic, the interpersonal, and the quotidian in the work of Childress expose such issues in the work of other BAM playwrights, such as Ed Bullins, Martie Charles, J. E. Gaines, and Ron Milner, and change the way we perceive revolutionary black theatre of the era? How might an understanding of Black Arts performance focused on questions of gender and feminism transform our genealogy of radical black theatre? How might Childress’s feminist portrayal of domestic kinship revise the way we understand Garveyism and Black Power, which have been caricatured as masculinist movements? Looking to our own time, how might Wedding Band be taught or performed in the era of #BlackLivesMatter? In an echo of the Black Power Movement, the intersectional feminist nuances of the Black Lives Matter Movement have been largely lost in media portrayals, which caricature the movement as violent, masculinist, and hate-filled. Childress’s corrective to hegemonic notions of black militancy is still germane in the twenty-first century, and her attention to the psychological needs of black women and children is still visionary in our present moment. Footnotes My thanks to Jeff Karem, Gary Totten, and the anonymous readers at MELUS who gave me valuable suggestions on this article. 1. Both Rosemary Curb and Nicky Cashman interpret Wedding Band: A Love/Hate Story in Black and White (1973) as a historical drama concerning what Alice Childress called “anti-woman laws,” including anti-miscegenation statutes (qtd. in Cashman 407). Cashman draws parallels between the historical setting in 1918 and the 1960s by noting that anti-miscegenation laws had only recently been struck down by the Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia (1967), after Childress composed the play. Shane Trudell Verge is the rare scholar to situate Wedding Band within the Black Arts Movement (BAM), arguing that the play’s interracial relationship challenges masculinist black nationalist ideology. I build on Verge’s work by focusing on African American women’s community-building. 2 I employ the disputed phrase “black nationalism” as a capacious category. In the Black Power era, there were disagreements between those who thought of themselves as primarily cultural nationalists and those who purported to be revolutionary nationalists (see William L. Van Deburg for these distinctions), among other disagreements between nationalist factions. As Childress and many BAM writers often conflated these ideas in their work, however, I employ a broad definition of “nationalism” to conceptualize African Americans as a nation-within-a-nation. 3 James Smethurst demonstrates that, while “sexism and masculinism” were manifest in the Black Arts and Black Power Movements, “caricatured versions of those movements as fundamentally and unusually sexist distort them and the legacy of black women (and some men) in those movements as well as their contributions to the rise of second-wave feminism” (Black 87). 4 For more on African American women’s contributions to the BAM, see Elizabeth Alexander, Cheryl Clarke, Margo Natalie Crawford and Lisa Gail Collins, and Carmen L. Phelps. 5 Cheryl Higashida tracks Childress’s interest in Garveyism. In her respectful but critical examination of Garvey, Childress can be compared to her friend and peer Theodore Ward. As Kate Dossett demonstrates, Ward’s 1938 play Big White Fog (part of the Chicago Federal Theatre Project) was one of the few pieces of literature prior to the Black Arts era to treat Garveyism seriously (558), unlike satirical depictions of him in literature by both white authors (for example, Eugene O’Neil’s The Emperor Jones ) and black authors (for example, George Schuyler’s Black No More  and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man ). As Melvin B. Rahming argues, in literature of the Black Power era, “the Garvey image is rehabilitated,” with authors largely treating both Garvey and West Indian characters with greater seriousness and respect (98). 6 Childress helped to shape the landscape of African American theatre in the twentieth century as a member of the left-leaning American Negro Theatre (ANT). Childress was one of many famous names who emerged from the ANT and went on to leftist civil-rights activism, including Harry Belafonte, Ruby Dee, and Sidney Poitier. Childress headed the most important successor organization to the ANT as chair of the theatre committee within the Committee for the Negro in the Arts (CNA). She fearlessly wrote and promoted radical, African American-authored drama during the most intense years of the Cold War. As a founding member of the Sojourners for Truth and Justice, an all-black radical female activist group, Childress worked to free Rosa Lee Ingram, a sharecropper convicted of murder for defending herself against sexual assault. For more on the ANT, see Jonathan Shandell. For more on the communist-affiliated CNA (1947-54), see Mary Helen Washington (Other). For more on the Sojourners for Truth and Justice, see Dayo F. Gore and Erik S. McDuffie (Sojourning). For more on Childress’s leftist art and activism during the Cold War period, see Higashida, Kathlene McDonald, and Washington (Other). 7 La Vinia Delois Jennings similarly argues that Childress’s A Short Walk (1979) demonstrates how the UNIA’s “blatant sexism marginalizes women” (Alice 125). 8 In many cases, historians of what Jacquelyn Dowd Hall calls the “long civil rights movement” have initiated this turn (1233). Gore, Jeanne Theoharis, and Komozi Woodard, in particular, have refocused black freedom studies to women and the grassroots. 9 Nghana Lewis also notes the female kinship in the play, and Catherine Wiley argues that Wedding Band’s “subject is less interracial heterosexual relations than the relations between black women and between black women and white women in World War I-era South Carolina” (185). One important contribution that BAM feminists made in this era was to point out that black nationalism of a sort already existed in African American communities and could be found in the practices of care carried out by women. Courtney Thorsson argues, for example, that Gwendolyn Brooks’s work “locates the radical imagination necessary for social change in the thoughts and actions of black female characters in their homes” (“Gwendolyn” 156). 10 Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s The Negro Family: The Case for National Action was published in 1965. Moynihan, the assistant secretary for labor in the Johnson administration, advocated a federal-level intervention into African American families, whom he portrayed as abnormal. Drawing on the work of African American sociologist E. Franklin Frazier, Moynihan argued that the “pathological” family structure slowed the economic and social progress of the Civil Rights Movement. Black feminists, as represented in Toni Cade Bambara’s The Black Woman (1970), claimed that the Moynihan Report blamed women for being matriarchal and domineering, to the detriment of the black man. Indeed, in his chapter “The Tangle of Pathology,” Moynihan wrote: “[T]he Negro community has been forced into a matriarchal structure which, because it is too out of line with the rest of the American society, seriously retards the progress of the group as a whole, and imposes a crushing burden on the Negro male” (29). Black feminists also pointed out that African American men frequently parroted the Moynihan Report by blaming African American women for their emasculation. In his influential essay “The Black Arts Movement” (1968), for example, Larry Neal argues that the African American woman “despises [the African American man’s] weakness, tearing into him at every opportunity, until, very often, there is nothing left but a shell” (38). 11 As defined by Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, the politics of respectability “equated public behavior with individual self-respect and with the advancement of African Americans as a group” (14). Higginbotham notes that “loud talking” was explicitly forbidden (199-200). By portraying Mattie with “industriousness” and “thrift,” Childress indicates that bourgeois politics of respectability shut out working-class African Americans who cannot appropriately perform respectability, while Fanny’s displays of wealth allow her the affectation of respectability. 12 I draw on Washington here, who demonstrates how Julia “[begins] to learn the language and style of resistance” from her neighbors (“Disturbing” 10), and Van Deburg’s explication of these strands of Black Power ideologies. 13 I am indebted to GerShun Avilez’s exploration of the “trope of the family” and his reading of both Paul Gilroy’s and Bambara’s The Black Woman’s interventions into discourses around “Blackness-as-kinship” (63). 14 For the centrality of Bambara’s The Black Woman in the development of black feminist literature and theory, see also Avilez, Margo Natalie Crawford, and Courtney Thorsson (Women’s). 15 In a speech, Bambara referred to Childress as “our national treasure” and remembered that her family poured over Childress’s newspaper columns, “Conversations from Life,” which detailed the fictional exploits of the domestic worker Mildred, who combatted racism in both poignant folkways and savvy humor (“Introduction” 11). A feminist revision of Langston Hughes’s Jesse B. Semple, Childress’s columns were published in the Harlem-based, black leftist newspaper Freedom. See also Trudier Harris’s 1986 introduction to Childress’s Like One of the Family (1956). 16 Thank you to the anonymous reviewer at MELUS who pointed out the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s expulsion meeting and whose comments inspired this paragraph. 17 Childress collapses Julia’s psychological interiority with the interiority of her home, thus aligning with a larger project of Black Power-era feminism. For example, Nikki Giovanni used the symbols of “house” and “home” in her 1972 book of poems, My House: Poems, in which she asserts her authority through the metaphor of a home. Structuring the book as poems representing both “The Rooms Inside” and “The Rooms Outside,” Giovanni’s poetic voice explores a nuanced vision of Black Power, questioning and critiquing Black Power ideology as it applies to individual relationships and black lives, especially women’s. Furthermore, Black Arts Movement feminists used home as a metaphor to represent a figurative or literal separate black space—a space of nation-building—while also figuring “home” as a tool to provide women’s psychic and physical preservation against white supremacy. 18 As Herman dies, Childress’s stage directions note that Herman’s sister “moves closer to the house as she listens to Julia” (Childress, Wedding 177). According to Jennings, Annabelle “embodies hope for the future of interracial sisterhood” (“Segregated” 52). Wiley asserts: “Sisterhood, especially from the point of view of white women learning to understand black women, begins with listening, not to what one wants to hear but to what is being said” (196). Childress hints at but does not expand on this possible interracial reconciliation between women. 19 Smethurst notes that in the post-Reconstruction era, and then again after World War I, black authors employed the trope of the black veteran to remind whites of “the vital African American contribution to the maintenance of the Republic” (African 68). After World War I, however, black radicals were largely disabused of the notion that wartime service would prove black men’s fitness for citizenship, as veterans faced abuse, Jim Crow, and lynching. 20 While recent criticism has begun to fully recognize how “terribly vital” Childress was to the Black Arts Movement (Allen 160), Wedding Band is usually overlooked in such scholarship. For more on Childress as part of the BAM, in addition to Carol Allen, see cfrancis blackchild and Soyica Diggs Colbert, both of whom discuss Childress’s Wine in the Wilderness (1969). Wine is also included in the 2014 Black Arts anthology SOS—Calling All Black People: A Black Arts Movement Reader, edited by John H. Bracey, Jr., Sonia Sanchez, and Smethurst. 21 What we now call “intersectionality” was first articulated by black left feminists such as Claudia Jones, the most important black woman in the Communist Party in the 1940s-1950s. Jones’s concept of a tripled oppression of class, race, and gender was developed in her most influential essay, “An End to the Neglect of the Problems of the Negro Woman!” originally published in the Communist Party’s journal Political Affairs in 1949. Carol Boyce Davies argues that Jones’s thesis of the “triple oppression” of black women is her “best contribution to black feminist thought” (40) and a precursor of Kimberlé Crenshaw’s theory of “intersectionality.” Jones “did not view black women as victims” but rather “the vanguard for transformative change” due to their unique perspectives (McDuffie, Sojourning 8). For more on Jones, see Gore and Washington (“Alice”). For more on intersectionality, see Crenshaw. Works Cited Alexander Elizabeth. The Black Interior. Graywolf P, 2004. Allen Carol. Peculiar Passages: Black Women Playwrights, 1875 to 2000. Peter Lang, 2005. Avilez GerShun. Radical Aesthetics and Modern Black Nationalism. U of Illinois P, 2016. Bambara Toni Cade , editor. The Black Woman: An Anthology. 1970. Washington Square P, 2005. 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Colbert Soyica Diggs. “Dialectical Dialogues: Performing Blackness in the Drama of Alice Childress.” Contemporary African American Women Playwrights: A Casebook, edited by Philip C. Kolin, Routledge, 2007, pp. 28-46. Colbert Soyica Diggs. . “A Pedagogical Approach to Understanding Rioting as Revolutionary Action in Alice Childress’s Wine in the Wilderness.” Theatre Topics, vol. 19, no. 1, 2009, pp. 77-85. Crawford Margo Natalie. “Must Revolution Be a Family Affair? Revisiting The Black Woman.” Gore, Theoharis, and Woodward, pp. 185-204. Crawford Margo Natalie , Collins Lisa Gail , editors. New Thoughts on the Black Arts Movement. Rutgers UP, 2006. Crenshaw Kimberlé. “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color.” Stanford Law Review, vol. 43, no. 6, 1991, pp. 1241-99. Curb Rosemary. “An Unfashionable Tragedy of American Racism: Alice Childress’s Wedding Band.” MELUS, vol. 7, no. 4, 1980, pp. 57-68. Davies Carol Boyce. 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Routledge, 2015. © MELUS: The Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 20, 2018
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