Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts
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Lynne Bartinelli
The Evolution of Discrimination in the Works of August Wilson
Intimate Interracial Relationships in American History
August Wilson
August Wilson, an interracial man whose mother was African-American and whose father was a white, German–American baker, explores the hope, heartbreak, and heritage of the African-American experience in the twentieth century throughout his cycle of seven plays. Each of his seven plays takes place in Pittsburgh’s Hill District during different decades from the opening of the 20th century to the 1970s. The theme of displacement is dramatized in August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, a play in which the African–American residents of a Pittsburgh boardinghouse in 1911 attempt to rediscover, repossess, and redefine themselves historically and socially as free citizens. The exploitation of African–Americans, whether it is a blues singer or a baseball player, is a common theme of his plays. Conflicts bring readers through the experience of African–Americans in the twentieth century. As separate and different as the characters may seem from one another, they realize at times that they all must come together as members in the creation of a shared history. Throughout his plays, the struggle and misfortune for African–Americans to attain the “American Dream” is not easy and never fully won.

Societal attitudes towards intimate personal relations between African–Americans and European–Americans changed from 1800 to 2000. From the beginning of slavery in America, masters had intimate relations with slave women; one significant case was the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings. After the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, the Black Codes and later, the Jim Crow Laws were established. These laws were a whole new set of resticitions that limited blacks’ freedom. The laws were basically just another form of slavery. The segregation required by the Jim Crow laws was declared unconstitutional through many Supreme Court cases, beginning with Brown v. Board of Education. Later, in the decision in Loving v. Commonwealth of Virginia declared laws banning interracial marriage unconstitutional. After this declaration of unconstitutionality there were an increasing number of mixed-raced affairs, marraiges, and relationships in the United States.

Major Works Consulted:

George, Charles. Life Under the Jim Crow Laws. San Diego: Lucent Books, 2000.
Kennedy, Randall. Interracial Intimacies. New York: Harper Collins, 2003.
Wilson, August. Jitney!. New York: Overlook - Mayer, 2000.
---. Joe Turner’s Come and Gone. New York: Penguin, 1988.
Photo credit: Bogumil, Mary L. Understanding August Wilson. Columbia: U of South Carolina, 1999.
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