Saunders Redding (1906-1988)
Contributing Editor: Eleanor Q. Tignor
Classroom Issues and Strategies
No Day of Triumph is a very teachable text that may be approached as a personal, racial, and historical document. Redding's objective but often passionate approach to relating his experiences can be used as a "lesson" in writing style, and in understanding the interconnections among the personal, racial, and social in American history and life. Comparisons with themes treated by earlier and later African-American writers can readily be made as the suggested assignments indicate.
Major Themes, Historical Perspectives, and Personal Issues
1. The black American's double consciousness--being black and being American; its effect on self-development and on relations with others, black and white.
2. The role of the family (family philosophy and patterns, goals and values) in shaping offspring--the nurturing but also sometimes the hindrances.
3. Slavery and its effects on blacks--on personal development and behavior, on family life in the next generation and generations to come.
4. Slavery and its effects on whites, especially the master/slave "relationship."
5. The tragic mulatto--caught between being black and (not) being white.
6. Intra-racial skin color consciousness and conflict.
7. The educated Negro and the "Negro burden": extraordinary responsibility "to uphold the race"; related theme--being better than whites in order to succeed.
8. The hold of religion on blacks, especially poorer blacks.
9. The black American folk past and its vestiges, especially its effects on blacks of little education.
10. The author as family member and individualist, as man of reason and humanist.
Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions
1. The effects of a text that merges personal and social history.
2. Objectivity versus subjectivity in this highly personal text.
3. Passionate tone and satirical humor.
4. Precise language.
5. Influence of the thinking of W.E.B. Du Bois (see especially The Souls of Black Folk ); anti-Booker T. Washington philosophy (see Du Bois's The Souls of Black Folk and Washington's Up from Slavery ).
6. Writing as catharsis (see the rest of No Day of Triumph and especially On Being Negro in America ).
7. Skill in blending exposition, dialogue, and anecdote in the creation of a highly readable text.
8. Incorporation of black folk materials (songs, tales, prayers).
In 1942, most black Americans and other Americans who knew and were sensitive to the conditions of slavery and the post-slavery years would have had no difficulty with Redding's thesis and tone. The history may need to be sketched in for present-day students; skin color consciousness and the history of the slave and the free black must be understood to get the impact of each of the grandmothers on Redding, the boy.
Comparisons, Contrasts, Connections
1. Du Bois's Souls of Black Folk (1903) should be a major comparison. See Du Bois's chapter on Booker T. Washington (III: "Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others," in Souls of Black Folk ) and Washington's Up from Slavery.
2. For the theme of being black in America, also highly personal as well as social responses, see for comparison: Richard Wright's "The Ethics of Living Jim Crow" (in Richard Wright's Uncle Tom's Children ); James Baldwin's "The Discovery of What It Means to Be an American" and "Nobody Knows My Name: A Letter from the South" (both essays in Baldwin's Nobody Knows My Name ); Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
3. For facts and commentary on slavery, see Redding's They Came in Chains, as well as any slave narratives taught in the course.
4. For an understanding of the stereotyping of the mulatto and other black stereotypes in American literature, see Sterling A. Brown's "Negro Character as Seen by White Authors," Journal of Negro Education, 2 (1933), reprinted in Dark Symphony, ed. James A. Emanuel and Theodore Gross (New York: The Free Press, 1968).
5. For autobiographical comparison/contrast with other black boys who became famous men, see Richard Wright's Black Boy and Langston Hughes's The Big Sea (Part I, Chapters 2-16).
Questions for Reading and Discussion/ Approaches to Writing
1. State your impressions of the Redding daily household. Support your impressions, explaining how you arrived at them.
2. State and explain the tone of Redding's opening to the chapter, prior to his introduction of Grandma Redding.
3. Contrast Grandma Redding and Grandma Conway, as they appeared to Saunders Redding, the boy.
4. Does Redding, the man, in retrospect, admire either grandmother, neither, or one more than the other? Explain.
5. Through their different manners of death and Redding's description of each death, what is implied about each of the grandmothers?
6. Who in the chapter is "troubled in mind"? Give your analysis.
7. Using Redding's style of writing as a model, write an analysis of your own "roots."
Baraka, Imamu Amiri. "A Reply to Saunders Redding's 'The Black Revolution in American Studies.'" Sources for American Studies, edited by Jefferson B. Kellogg and Robert H. Walker, 1983.
Berry, Faith (ed.). Introduction. A Scholar's Conscience: Selected Writings of J. Saunders Redding, 1942-1977. Lexington: University Press of Lexington, 1992. 1-14.
Kellogg, Jefferson B. "Redding and Baraka: Two Contrasting Views on Afro-American Studies." Sources for American Studies, edited by Jefferson B. Kellogg and Robert H. Walker, 1983.
Thompson, Thelma B. "Romantic Idealists and Conforming Materialists: Expressions of the American National Character." MAWA Review 3 (June 1988): 6-9.
Vassilowitch, John, Jr. "Ellison's Dr. Bledsoe: Two Literary Sources." Essays in Literature 8 (Spring 1981) 109-13.