Best known for Sex and Racism in America (1965), a pioneering study of what would now be called the intersectionality of race and sexuality in the legacy of slavery, Calvin Hernton (1932-2001) was a history and sociology professor as well as a poet, novelist, and cultural critic. Hired as a social worker in New York City in 1960, he cofounded the black nationalist Umbra literary group in 1963. From 1965 to 1969, he studied in London with the existential psychologist R. D. Laing, an experience that helped to spark his thinking on the sexual foundations of American racism. As he speculated in Sex and Racism in America, white interest in black sexuality was “so immaculate and yet so perverse, so ethereal and yet so concrete, that all race relations tend to be, however subtly, sexual relations.” In Hernton’s novel Scarecrow (1974), interracial desire proves lethal aboard a Europe-bound ship of fools. In his last major work of nonfiction, The Sexual Mountain and Black Women Writers (1987), he adopted a womanist perspective to criticize the historical dismissal of literature by African American women. The FBI’s interest in Hernton was such that it carefully reviewed even his unpublished apprentice work. Interrogated by Bureau agents in person in 1955, Hernton protested that he was “not interested in Communism” and was so wrapped up in his writing “he does not know what goes on around him.”
FBI documents studying Calvin Hernton.
Material is in the public domain.
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