The Oral Tradition in the Public Square: An Exchange With Ron Christie


HomerSowerMy writing is an extension of the oral tradition, mainly consigned to comedy and morning radio shows in the African-American community, with Steve Harvey being the daytime exception, and Dish Nation focused on entertainment, avoiding greater issues pf poverty, violence, unemployment, and education.

HomerInsidetheBarPaul Lawrence Dunbar and Langston Hughes, along with Zora Neale Hurston (whose birthday just passed!) were among the first to put the oral voice on paper, giving it a new platform and vitality to describe the expanding experiences of freedom and its barriers and problems. The poems of the sixties made loud, righteous noise, creating templates of truth in their chorus, dancing to the full joy of free speech, praising, cleansing, guarding the secrets preserved in the earlier hush spoken no louder than the wind in the grass.

But from the early 1800s, beginning with preachers and exhorters like the Methodist Black Tom, voices began to address issues in the public square, freedom and abolition among them, slavery at the forefront. The halls of Congress saw black men stand to address the nation’s lawmakers after 1866, among them, from Charleston, Richard C. Cain, pastor at Emanuel AME Church which still continues the tradition of high eloquence on issues of community, life, and spirit.

Oral tradition met the public voice.

WarPosterI write to extend that tradition and engage others to keep it alive. It is a new duty of the griot; not only to tell the history of community, to recall its paradoxes, but to keep alive its language and dialogue among all, without regard to status. Speech is a level place. In the oral tradition of public speech, see the exchange below.