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Chapter 10 - “The Same Stuff”

Native Son and Press Coverage of the Robert Nixon Trial

from Part II - Social and Cultural Contexts

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 July 2021

Michael Nowlin
Affiliation:
University of Victoria, British Columbia
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Summary

This chapter examines Wright’s critical appropriation of the Chicago Tribune’s coverage of the Robert Nixon murder trial (1938-39). Although Nixon was tried and executed for murdering Florence Johnson (a white woman), the Tribune routinely – and groundlessly – called the Black teenager a “rapist.” As Wright reminds us, if fascination with the condemned African American criminal dates back to the Puritan gallows ritual, the trope of the “Black beast rapist” evokes lynching in the post-Reconstruction South. With Native Son’s pointed revisions of the Tribune’s racist coverage, Wright exposes the press as the conduit by which the extrajudicial violence and dehumanizing rhetoric of the lynch mob entered the Northern courtroom.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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