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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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Steel Mill Blues

Steel Mill Blues

Chapter:
(p.70) Chapter 3 Steel Mill Blues (p.71)
Source:
Ain't Got No Home
Author(s):

Erin Royston Battat

Publisher:
University of North Carolina Press
DOI:10.5149/northcarolina/9781469614021.003.0004

This chapter focuses on William Attaway's novel, Blood on the Forge (1941). His Great Migration novel is set in 1919, a year of severe antileftist repression and deadly race riots. Attaway's black and white migrants battle one another in a race war aided and abetted by mill owners and the police. Most critics read Blood on the Forge as a kind of insider critique of the Left: sympathetic to Marxism yet concerned primarily with the seemingly insurmountable racial barriers to proletarian revolution. What critics underestimate, however, is the role of blues music, both in the novel's form and as a central theme, as a site of interracial exchange, and as a catalyst for changes in consciousness. The novel's blues form replaces Marxist determinism with an understanding of African American migration—and interracial alliances—as open-ended and improvisational. Attaway's depiction of aesthetic experience as transformative—if not explicitly leftist in content—does not signal a rupture in the black–Left alliance but, rather, an attempt to broaden the definition of political art.

Keywords:   William Attaway, antileftist repression, race riots, migrants, blues music, African Americans

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