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About this collection

The Ransom Center's Christopher Morley collection includes an unpublished manuscript titled A Wild Plaint (1909). The two journals appear to document the final months of a young African American man living in Chicago. The manuscript is attributed to "Aubrey Gray," but was written by Fenton Johnson (1888–1958), an African American poet, essayist, and editor from Chicago. Johnson’s name, crossed out but legible, appears on the first page of the second notebook. Johnson or his proxy submitted the manuscript to publisher Doubleday, Page & Co in 1909 as a work of non-fiction. The manuscript is accompanied by the typed note that introduced A Wild Plaint to the publisher as well as the Doubleday, Page reader’s report, and its response. 

 

In A Wild Plaint Johnson offers a vivid depiction of discrimination at the beginning of the twentieth century in the urban north and the United States more broadly. The emotional intensity of the entries is varied—Gray is alternately optimistic, angry, depressed, and frustrated. At the conclusion of the fictional journal, Gray commits suicide, explaining that it is “due to this color-prejudice…that I do what I am doing.” Johnson's discussion of prejudice and persecution includes racial epithets and racial and ethnic stereotypes.

 

This digital collection includes a searchable transcript of the manuscript, which can be viewed side-by-side with images of the manuscript. 

 

The above photograph of Johnson is from the Ransom Center's copy of Johnson's Visions of the Dusk (1915).

 

 

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Volume 1

Volume 2

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