Richard Wright, Joe Louis, and America’s racist soul

John Wight
5 min readNov 22, 2022

Few writers understood America’s racist soul as keenly as Richard Wright (pictured above), and few used their pen as mercilessly as he did as a weapon to excoriate and expose it. In black heavyweight champion and ring legend, Joe Louis, Wright found the perfect symbol of black resistance to the conceits of a dominant culture wallowing in the abyss of white supremacy. Wright’s treatment of Louis’ exploits in the ring and importance outside it combined to forge an unbeatable vector of resistance to that culture.

Richard Wright was born in 1904 the son of a sharecropper in Mississipi in the Deep South. Slavery had only ended four decades earlier and white supremacy had by then phycically reasserted itself in the shape of the Klu Klux Klan and socially under the rubric of Jim Crow, a system of apartheid that was to hold sway across the South all the way up into to the 1960s.

By the time Wright relocated the south side of Chicago in 1927 he was ready to make his mark as a writer and radical black voice at a time when metropolises such as Chicago, New York, Boston, Detroit and San Francisco were alive with left wing and radical ideas, providing hope for social and political transformation at a time when Soviet communism still stood as a beacon to the poor, marginalised and oppressed across the world.

Wright joined the Communist Party in 1933, having spent the previous year attending meetings of the then Marxist literary group, the John Reed Club. He soon began writing cultural and literary pieces for the popular communist New Masses magazine, honing and developing a voice that would explode into public consciousness with the publication of his classic novel, ‘Native Son’, in 1940 in the pages of which the novel’s antihero, Bigger Thomas, is unapologetically and defiantly black: “The thing to do was to act just like others acted, live like they lived, and while they were not looking, do what you wanted.”

Five years before ‘Native Son’ exploded onto the scene, Joe Louis had already done so with his victory over Italian giant, Primo Carnera, in front of a packed crowd at the Yankee Stadium in New…

John Wight

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