It occurred to me as I was listening to a wonderful reading of Richard Wright’s Black Boy (1945) that it should be included in my category of War Stories.  Not because it has to do with any named wars.  Wright was 6 years old when World War One began, but because the story he tells of his life, from five years  to seventeen years old, in Natchez and Jackson, Mississippi, reads like a war story: constant beatings from multiple family members, everyday and growing fear of white violence, missed months at school, constant, gnawing hunger, exclusion from friendship of other boys, constant looking for work, and hard labor when he could find it.  Yet, through all this, Wright is one of those rare souls, whom adversity doesn’t overcome but which he stands against.  As the valedictorian of his 9th grade high school class – the last year for most of the children– he was told he would be giving a speech.  He wrote it, practiced it, and was ready to give it when the principal called him in and handed him what he was to read, something by the principal — who knew more about life than young Richard, who knew “how to talk to the white folks listening.”  Richard refused.  In the face of threats from principal and family and incomprehension from his classmates, he continued to refuse, and gave his own speech.

On the night of graduation I was nervous and tense; I rose and faced the audience and my speech rolled out,.  When my voice stopped there was some applause.  I did not care if they liked it or not; I was through … I walked home, saying to myself: The hell with it!  With almost seventeen years of baffled living behind me, I faced the world in 1925.

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