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The Making of African American Identity: Volume III, 1917-1968
Theme: SegregationTheme: MigrationsTheme: ProtestTheme: CommunityTheme: Overcome?
Theme: Overcome

Jerry Monroe/Algonquin Press
Brent Wade
Brent Wade
Making It
- Brent Wade, Company Man, novel, 1992, excerpts (PDF)
- Interview with Brent Wade, SoundingsTM, from the National Humanities Center, 1994 (MP3 file)

Set in the late sixties and the seventies, Brent Wade's novel Company Man tells the story of Billy Covington, an African American who is a senior executive at a global electronics company. Joining the staff of Varitech after graduating from the University of Maryland, Covington moves rapidly through the corporate ranks, eventually coming to direct the company's public relations office. He has it all and would seem to embody the success of the civil rights movement. He and his beautiful wife Paula live in a luxurious home in an old, predominantly white section of Baltimore. He drives a Jaguar, she a Mercedes. He drinks well-aged bourbon, smokes rich cigars, and wears stylish Italian suits. He and his wife are expecting their first child. Yet he is no position to enjoy the good life, for he is in a hospital adjusting to permanent disabilities caused by a bullet wound to the head, self-inflicted in a suicide attempt.

We offer two scenes. In the first, Covington describes his initial meeting with his future father-in-law, which takes place in late 1966, while he is in college. Dr. Nathaniel Bond is a rich, successful physician in Richmond, a pillar of the black establishment. A veteran of the civil rights movement, years earlier he had worked for voter registration, led sit-ins, and headed the local NAACP. After dinner he escorts Covington into his library and delivers a revealing sermon about black history. In the second scene Covington confronts Carl Rice, another African American Varitech executive, who is helping to organize a strike by black machinists. In these excerpts Wade illustrates the dilemma in which the success of the civil rights movement placed some African Americans. The victories won by leaders like Dr. Bond made it possible for Covington to achieve his personal success. Should he now risk that success by supporting the struggles of leaders like Carl Rice? What does the successful African American owe the black community, especially at a time when racial issues have become vastly more complex than simply getting served at a lunch counter?

The interview, conducted by host Wayne Pond, was broadcast in 1994 as part of a series on contemporary Southern writers, produced by the National Humanities Center for its former radio program SoundingsTM. Brent Wade reads from Company Man and discusses its treatment of such themes as alienation, conformity, racism, power, and black-white relations. He reflects on the place of African Americans in post-civil-rights America. He also explores his own relationship to the South and Southern writers and his goals in writing Company Man.

Wade (1959-) grew up in Maryland and graduated from the University of Maryland. He has worked as a manager for several high-tech companies. Company Man is his first and thus far his only novel. (7 pages; interview, 28 minutes.)

Discussion questions
  1. How has the segregated South shaped Dr. Bond's identity?
  2. How has he sought to define himself?
  3. What does Dr. Bond's library symbolize?
  4. What does Covington mean when he says that blacks are a "stranded people"?
  5. Has Dr. Bond overcome?
  6. What does Covington's failure to remember the meaning of CPT suggest?
  7. How has Carl Rice sought to define himself?
  8. Has Carl Rice overcome?
  9. How are both Dr. Bond and Carl Rice influenced by the past?
  10. How does the novel illustrate the growing complexity of the racial issues faced by black people?
  11. Has Billy Covington overcome?
  12. In what ways does Covington's situation at Varitech reflect the argument Stokely Carmichael made against integration in "Toward Black Liberation" (see Theme I: SEGREGATION)?

Framing Questions
  •  By the end of the 1960s, what had African Americans overcome?
  •  How had the civil rights movement affected the lives of African Americans?
  •  What remained to be overcome?

Printing, Listening
Company Man:  7 pages
Interview, Soundings:  28 minutes
Supplemental Sites
"Race in Black and White," brief reviews of African American works, including Company Man, in The New York Times Review of Books, 7 September 1997

*PDF file - You will need software on your computer that allows you to read and print Portable Document Format (PDF) files, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you do not have this software, you may download it FREE from Adobe's Web site.

**Download the free QuickTime Player, available in both Windows and MacIntosh versions.

Image: Brent Wade, photograph by Jerry Monroe, n.d. Permission pending from Jerry Monroe and Algonquin Press.

1. New Hope?   2. "People Get Ready"   3. From Negro to Black
4. Attacking Stereotypes   5. Soul   6. Dubious Victory
  7. Making It

TOOLBOX: The Making of African American Identity: Volume III, 1917-1968
Segregation | Migrations | Protest | Community | Overcome?

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