Christ in Alabama

Langston Hughes stirred up quite a bit of controversy with the poem, due to the implications of the entire poem and allegations of blasphemy.

Christ is a nigger,

Beaten and black:

Oh, bare your back!

Mary is His mother:

Mammy of the South,

Silence your mouth.

God is His father:

White Master above

Grant Him your love.

Most holy bastard

Oh the bleeding mouth,

Nigger Christ

On the cross of the South

First, this poem takes the Christian identity, the predominant religion of America’s majority white population, and draws parallels to the struggle of African Americans in history.  The comparison depicts black males as beaten, black females as voiceless, and white males as omni-potent. The poem was clearly thought out, from the important biblical figures to the symbol of the cross. In Christianity the cross represents the punishment Jesus took from the Romans for the sins of humanity. So when Hughes writes “On the cross of the South” he means “How much more punishment must we endure?” Almost as important to the allusion of redemption is the lack of Easter.  This poem has no newly risen hero, but a long suffering victim.  The poem uses simple words and structure, but opens the eyes of its audience by reminding them that the near blasphemy of the poem isn’t nearly as horrifying as the contextual history. One of the most effective blasphemies in the poem is the beginning of the last stanza “Most holy bastard of the bleeding mouth.” It reminds the audience that Jesus had no father on Earth to claim him, as no plantation owner would claim a slave child his own. The bleeding mouth is particularly jarring because it alludes to speaking and being punished for it. Hughes points at the social injustices that continue in the South through biblical comparison, and leaves the audience to wonder how long the crucifixion must last before there will be salvation.

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