Richard Wright’s “Bright and Morning Star” was the subject of last month’s discussion. First published in 1939, Wright’s story concerns a young African-American Communist Party organizer, Johnny Boy, in the Deep South. Johnny’s brother Sug is in jail because of his own party activities. Their mother Sue, is roughed up by a sheriff’s contingent sent to her home to try to make her “name names” of party members.
Sue is duped into giving names of party activists to a white sympathizer, Booker. Johnny’s girlfriend Reva makes her realize this mistake. Wright writes, “Her having told the names of Johnny-Boy's comrades was but an incident in a deeper horror.” Sue sets to intercepting Booker before he can tell the authorities the time and location of a meeting. She takes a gun concealed under a sheet. She crosses a creek and climbs a hill to find Johnny Boy being tortured in order to make him talk. Booker comes on the scene, and she shoots him dead. Pete, a member of the sheriff’s posse, in turn kills her.
Wright presents us with a stark moral dilemma for Sue. If she did nothing, the party meeting would have been raided, and the participants put at the mercy of the corrupt local authorities. As it turns out, her action resulted in multiple deaths, including her own. Wright’s story raises troubling questions about the use of violence for political ends. What does Wright mean when he talks of a “deeper horror”? He writes it is “call and counter-call, loyalty and counter-loyalty" struggling in her soul.