Richard Wright’s thesis in The Ethics of Living Jim Crow: An Autobiographical Sketch is, “My first lesson in how to lie as a Negro came when I was quite small.” (22) Wright is saying that he had to learn the dos and the don’ts, the rights and the wrongs when it came to being a black person in the south facing much segregation.
Wright starts off with telling how when he was a young kid he and his friends would have cinder battles. Where he stayed the grass was never green. Actually, according to Wright, nothing was green. The only green that could be found or seen was located at or near the homes of the white people. It wasn’t until he and his gang of friends were in war with the white children that he realized the advantages of having grass, trees, and hedges. During the war, Wright and his fellow comrades were being beaten. Their cinder alone was nothing compared to the broken bottles and objects the white children had. So they begun to retreat to the pillars of their homes but before Wright could make it back he was struck in the back of the head with broken milk bottle and had to get three stitches. Wright waited for his mother to return home from so he could tell her what happened. He knew she would help him figure out what to do next and she would understand. But instead, he received a whopping that caused him to get a fever of one hundred and two. It was doing this whopping that Wright’s mother instilled in him the “gems of Jim Crow wisdom.” (23) She told him to “never, never, under any conditions to fight white folks again.” (23) Also, she told him that he was lucky and should be thankful they didn’t kill him. As time went on, Wright encountered many other incidents which he had to be careful of what he said, did, and how he looked at white people. There were times even after his war he had with the young white kids when he was lucky to have been alive due to his actions. Most of the knowledge Wright obtained in regards to Jim Crow laws were gained while he was working for white people.
One question I had regarding this article was one in which Wright asked, “How do Negroes feel about the way they have to live?” (31) Wright answered this question by quoting a friend of his that ran an elevator, he said, “Lawd, man! Ef it wuzn’t fer them polices ‘n’ them ol’ lynch-mobs, there wouldn’t be nothin’ but uproar down here!” (31) It seems as though black people kind of content with the way things were. When Wright told his co-workers what had his bosses did to an old black woman while he was working as a porter in a clothing store all they said was, “Shucks! Man, she’s a lucky bitch!” (11) Then he took another bite of his hamburger. Even though stuff like this was things some black people were used to, it makes me wonder why no one stopped to say we have to do something about this. Even today, when injustice happens to someone of the black race we get together and state we don’t like what is going on. I know the times are different now but there were enough black people to fight back, at least in my opinion.
I found this article to being interesting because this was the actual trials and tribulations a person went through to survive during the times of Jim Crow. I would’ve never thought it would be as difficult as it was for Wright to survive post slavery. I mean in the sense that black people didn’t know what they could and couldn’t do during those times. I found it to be sad that even after slavery they had to still go through many injustices and unfair treatment. But I believe that it is because of these struggles black people had to face that make us such a strong race.