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Ain't Got No HomeAmerica's Great Migrations and the Making of an Interracial Left$
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Erin Royston Battat

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9781469614021

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: September 2014

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469614021.001.0001

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Race, Sex, and the Hobo

Race, Sex, and the Hobo

(p.14) Chapter 1 Race, Sex, and the Hobo (p.15)
Ain't Got No Home

Erin Royston Battat

University of North Carolina Press

This chapter begins with the infamous Scottsboro case of 1933, in which nine black boys riding a freight train in Alabama were falsely accused of raping two white girls, convicted by an all-white jury, and sentenced to death. When the Communist-led International Labor Defense (ILD) took over the young men's appeals, it convinced many African Americans that the Community Party was seriously committed to their social struggle. The chapter argues that radical journalists forged this black–Left alliance by building on and revising the tradition of the hobo narrative. An imagined space free from social constraints, the boxcar provides a setting for illicit sex, gender-bending, and interracial camaraderie. Later in the 1930s, John Steinbeck and African American writer William Attaway translated this radical discourse to popular audiences through their sentimental tales of interracial hobo communities, Of Mice and Men (1937) and Let Me Breathe Thunder (1939). Attaway self-consciously revises Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men to complicate the image of the hobo friendship that was so appealing to general readers. He offers an image of an interracial hobo collective that is more radically egalitarian than Steinbeck's but also more unstable and, like Marx's lumpenproletariat, susceptible to reactionary swings.

Keywords:   black boys, freight train, rape, Community Party, International Labor Defense, African Americans, black–Left alliance, William Attaway

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