Charles White's Native Son No. 2, 1942 was used on the cover of Stacy I. Morgan's Rethinking Social Realism: African American Art and Literature, 1930-1953.
This 2004 book concerned itself with exploring and chronicling African American artists and writers’ commitment to Social Realism, from 1930, which was pretty much the end of the Harlem Renaissance, through to the early 1950s, the eve of a decisive period of the Civil Rights movement.
From the back cover of the book: “The social realist movement, with its focus on proletarian themes and its strong ties to New Deal programs and leftist politics, has long been considered a depression-era phenomenon that ended with the start of World War II. This study explores how and why African American writers and visual artists sustained an engagement with the themes and aesthetics of social realism into the early cold war-era - far longer than a majority of their white counterparts.
Stacy I. Morgan recalls the social realist atmosphere in which certain African American artists and writers were immersed and shows how black social realism served alternately to question the existing order, instill race pride, and build interracial, working-class coalitions. Morgan discusses, among others, such figures as Charles White, John Wilson, Frank Marshall Davis, Willard Motley, Langston Hughes, Sterling Brown, Elizabeth Catlett, and Hale Woodruff.”
Rethinking Social Realism: African American Art and Literature, 1930-1953 takes its place alongside other scholarship such as Mary Helen Washington’s The Other Blacklist: The African American Literary and Cultural Left of the 1950s [Columbia University Press, 2014] and Artists on the Left: American Artists and the Communist Movement, 1926-1956, by Andrew Hemingway [Yale University Press, 2002]. Collectively, these books document the left-leaning aspects of the practices of Charles White and a significant number of other African American artists during key periods of the early to mid 20th century. Such scholarship demonstrated itself to be of huge importance, not only in reconsidering the practices of Black American artists, but also diversifying dominant understandings of left-leaning artists in America.
As could be expected, Charles White was fittingly and generously represented in the book, with references to him throughout. There were several illustrations of White’s work in Rethinking Social Realism: African American Art and Literature, 1930-1953, including a full page reproduction of Native Son No. 2, 1942. White’s voice is represented in the book, enabling the reader to directly hear from the artist, in explicit regard to the narratives and considerations Morgan explores. For example, in an early section of the book, “The Murals of Charles White”, we read,
“Moreover, White shared with many social realist peers a conviction regarding the special communicative power of murals, explaining in a 1943 interview with the CP’s Daily Worker, “Art is not for artists and connoisseurs alone. It should be for the people. A mural on the wall of a commonly-used building and read its message.”” (55)