A defining force in mid-twentieth-century African American literature, Richard Wright (1908-1960) became the world’s most famous black author with the hard-boiled naturalist novel Native Son (1940) and the unsparing autobiography Black Boy (1945). Born on a farm near Natchez, Mississippi, Wright began his literary career in big-city Chicago, where he joined the John Reed Club and the U.S. Communist Party. Increasingly dissatisfied by the Party, as well as by the earliest signs of the Second Red Scare, he moved to Paris in 1946. The FBI closely followed Wright’s progress, personal and professional, from 1942 through 1963, targeting his passport and keeping him on the Security Index of major threats to the U.S. even after his expatriation. Wright was highly conscious of FBI surveillance and police power more generally, addressing both in his unpublished Paris novel Island of Hallucination (1959) and in the pained but humorous poem “The FB Eye Blues” (1949). After he passed away in 1960, Ollie Harrington, Amiri Baraka, and other black radicals suspected that the FBI or CIA was responsible for Wright’s sudden death.
FBI documents studying Richard Wright.
Material is in the public domain.
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