The John Howard Birss, Jr. Memorial Program 2015

2015 Selection - Native Son by Richard Wright

Cover of Native Son


A Celebration of the 75th Anniversary of Native Son by Richard Wright 

Each year Roger Williams University celebrates a significant anniversary of the publication of a great work of literature, starting in 2001 with the 150th anniversary of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and continuing in 2015 with the 75th anniversary of Richard Wright’s Native Son. When Native Son was published in 1940 it was one of the first major novels about African-Americans written by an African- American. This protest novel was an immediate bestseller and chosen as a Book-of-the-Month Club selection. Still, it was a controversial work banned by many public high schools and libraries throughout the United States. The novel was adapted for the stage several times with the initial production directed by Orson Welles on Broadway. 

When Native Son was selected in 2014 the Birss Committee could not have predicted how reflective it would be of the current explosion of racial tension within our society. This tragic novel remains a moving and accurate testimony of the plight of the African-American man in the United States. While strides toward equality have been made since the 1930s, there remains a significant socio-economic divide between white and black America. Racial profiling and unfair treatment of African-Americans still occurs within the criminal justice system.

Bigger Thomas, the protagonist in Native Son, commits two murders and is captured, imprisoned, tried and sentenced to death. The irony of the story is that while it unfolds, despite the horror of the crimes committed, the reader comes to understand the forces of society that fuel the anger causing Bigger to commit these murders. In the end one wonders who is really at fault -- Bigger Thomas or American society. 

Today one wonders who is really at fault in two recent cases involving the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York City -- the suspects or the police officers. In the face of these dilemmas and the current racial tension in our society, Richard Wright’s Native Son continues to tell us what it is like to grow up black, poor and angry in America. The fact that this story remains so relevant is an indication of how far we still have to go to achieve racial equality in America. 

• Book Discussion sponsored by the University Honors Program and the RWU Library o Time: Tuesday, February 10, 2015 at 7:00pm o Place: Mary Tefft White Cultural Center, RWU Library • A Panel Discussion will be moderated by Professor James Tackach o Time: Wednesday, February 25, 2015 at 5:00pm o Place: Mary Tefft White Cultural Center, RWU Library •

Click Here to see the original 2015 Birss resource page. Archive pages are presented as is.